Doris Gorka Bartuska, of East Falls, eminent Pennsylvania physician and famously "39 and holding," died Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Bartuska was born and raised in Nanticoke, the first child of E. Edward and Sophie Gorka. She had a traditional childhood of the time, being raised in a Catholic and a Polish community, but at an early age showed an interest in music and took to the piano and organ quickly.
This daughter of a small-town grocer and his wife unconventionally took to the field of biology as an undergraduate at Bucknell Junior College, now Wilkes University. One teacher, Dr. Charles Reif, had a profound effect on her career path, encouraging her to look to medicine as a career even though it was not a path most women sought. With that mentoring, a remarkable future developed.
During this time, she met her future husband, Anthony J. Bartuska. While they grew up only four blocks apart in Nanticoke and went to the same high school, they were in different circles. It was during a Christmas vacation while they were both home from college, Doris from Bucknell and Tony from the U.S. Naval Academy, that Tony called to see if she would go see a movie. She reflected that he was a gentleman and very attentive during that date; in her words, it was "a match ready to happen," which quickly turned to a romance that lasted until his death in 2002.
After their marriage in 1951, they moved to Philadelphia and the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, formerly the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, which opened in 1850, for Doris to pursue her career in medicine. While she had early counseling to pursue a specialty in surgery due to her long, slender fingers and delicate touch, she decided to choose endocrinology, which she felt would give her more time to raise a family.
And she did raise a family - six children, all daughters, beginning with the first child between her third and fourth years of medical school, followed by three other children during her internship then residency, moving into a practice by 1958. Several children went into scientific fields, and one even became a family practice physician.
Dr. Doris often reflected on her career path and significant events during a time when being a female woman physician was uncommon. She loved medicine and everything about it; teaching was her passion whether it was teaching students, her patients or even her colleagues.
We have memories of dropping her off at the college on Sundays after Mass when she had rounds to do before she would walk home to have Sunday brunch with her family. She thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie she had with the other attendings, fellows and residents, especially in the endocrinology field. Her fellows would come over to dinner frequently as well; her involvement in life at the college included her family.
Not surprising, all her children have a keen interest in health and wellness. Women's Medical College was a true nurturing environment for women who went into the practice of medicine and it gave her a solid foundation from which to launch a career and maintain an active practice throughout her life.
If she found specific impediments, she did not talk about them but plowed ahead. As one daughter reflected, she often said, "Life is a cafeteria, you have to help yourself."
She had a passion for song and dance, and SKIT night was one of her favorite traditions at the college. We all took part in helping her get ready with her lyrics and dancing. She was known for her "I'm Unique" routine, sung to the tune of "Shall We Dance" from "The King and I."
She always said she could not have done all she did without the help and support of her husband, Tony. He encouraged her to pursue fellowships and special training that would increase her competency, even as he took charge of the household duties. Sometimes these were turned into adventures, as when the entire family moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, for the weeks that she did continuing education at Jackson Labs.
She also appreciated all the support of numerous mentors who themselves were leaders in medicine, with specific acknowledgement of Dr. Marion Fay and Dr. June Klinghoffer, as well as her many peers who offered mutual support and encouragement.
Dr. Bartuska was an incredible diagnostician, taking pride in identifying the root cause of symptoms that escaped identification by others. One of her favorite stories was about being on the phone with a patient and, upon hearing coughing in the background, diagnosed the patient's daughter with whooping cough, getting her to the hospital for treatment.
She liked to paraphrase a quote from Goethe – "We see what we know" – and so she always tried to increase her knowing. The stack of medical journals on her kitchen table, even as she left for the hospital, was as indication of her constant search for knowledge.
Dr. Bartuska was emeritus professor of medicine (endocrinology) at Drexel University School of Medicine, formerly the Medical College of Pennsylvania/Hahnemann University. She was the director of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and aetabolism and the fellowship training program at the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
She was known in academia as a consultant in endocrine and rare metabolic disorders. In more recent years, she frequently spoke to professional and non-professional groups on the endocrinology of aging, and was a passionate advocate for the need to increase research in the medicine of aging.
She graduated from Bucknell Junior College, now Wilkes University, and obtained her M.D. degree from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMC), now Drexel University College of Medicine. She was assistant and associate dean of medicine at WMC, as well as associate dean for the curriculum at the Medical College of Pennsylvania.
She served as president of the American Medical Women's Association in 1988, as well as president of Philadelphia County Medical Society and the Philadelphia Endocrine Society. Her involvement in medical humanities and medical ethics led to participation in the President's Forum on Physicians and Social Responsibility. Until recently, she served as delegate to the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Committee to Nominate Delegates to the American Medical Association.
Her ability was recognized by numerous awards, including the Strittmatter Award, presented by the Philadelphia County Medical Society, the Alpha Omega Honor Medical Society and the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award, and she was named an Outstanding Educator of America and a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. She received the Shaffrey Award from St. Joseph's University, an honorary Doctor of Science from Wilkes University and the Alumni Achievement Award from Bucknell University.
For all her accomplishments, there was another side to Doris. She was known for her daily walks around East Falls and was always seen wearing one of her favorite hats. She was proud of her Polish heritage and enjoyed Polish music and dance, especially the oberek.
She was an accomplished musician, having studied piano, organ and coloratura voice, still taking pride in reaching the high Cs. Upon the death of her husband, Tony, 10 years ago, she rediscovered tap dancing and took regular classes at the Philadelphia Senior Center on Broad Street. She was always excited to learn new steps and to perform them with her team.
She continued her involvement with both the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Philadelphia County Medical Society, regularly attending their annual meetings. Dr. Bartuska also took great interest in the evolution of the Medical College of Pennsylvania and its East Falls Campus to what is now the Drexel University College of Medicine.
She took great pleasure in her grandchildren, having them join her, for 20 years, during her annual Pennsylvania Medical Society meetings in Hershey. She was known for bringing them downtown on the bus, and, after a morning of shopping, would treat them to some of the finer restaurants in the center of the city for lunch.
She greeted her first great-grandchild, Logan, with great enthusiasm.
As we say goodbye to her, she would appreciate an invocation of one of her favorite shows, "The Lawrence Welk Show," with it's closing - "Keep a song in your heart … good night."
Published in Times Leader on Aug. 25, 2013