Examining Dr. Mohs: With no formal residency training, doctor devised revolutionary technique

October 1, 2009
Lawrence W. Field, M.D., F.I.A.C.S.

The treatise on the "Evolution of Mohs" written by your senior staff correspondent John Jesitus and published in your July 2009 issue contains a very significant error. Frederick Mohs' professional life was not "general surgery's loss," for Dr. Mohs never was a surgeon (nor a dermatologist). I was informed he "completed an internship - most likely of the rotating kind - and then started his research and practice."

Dear Editor:

The treatise on the "Evolution of Mohs" written by your senior staff correspondent John Jesitus and published in your July 2009 issue contains a very significant error. Frederick Mohs' professional life was not "general surgery's loss," for Dr. Mohs never was a surgeon (or a dermatologist). I was informed he "completed an internship - most likely of the rotating kind - and then started his research and practice."1

Another informant suggested that he enjoyed a straight surgical internship rather than a rotating one.2

According to Dr. Maloney, Dr. Mohs was subsequently "dumped by surgery, loosely adopted by derm (eventually)."3 This is true. The department of dermatology at Wisconsin gave Dr. Mohs a home when the surgeons took away his space, and he continued to work there until his death.

To give final evidence to this unknown saga, at the time I was in Madison (1951), the University of Wisconsin had a one-year residency in dermatology under Stur Johnson, the second and third years being completed in the dermatology department at the University of Michigan. Dr. Mohs did neither.

The chair of surgery at the University of Wisconsin at that time was a tall, white-haired gentleman named Professor Otto Schmidt, who personally liked Fred Mohs and gave him a small cubicle in the back of the department of surgery to do his work.

I personally spent many hours as Dr. Mohs' "go-fer," helping obtain varying chemicals and tissues, taking reports, etc., for him. Dr. Mohs and the principles of his work were publicly ridiculed - "there goes that crazy Fred Mohs" - by another surgeon in the department, A. Curreri, who had been instrumental in the development of "Dextran" (the plasma expander which saved so many lives during the Korean conflict).4

Dr. Curreri fully expected to win a Nobel prize - he did not. Now, as we all know, Dr. Curreri's name is virtually unknown, while Frederick Mohs, who had no formal residency training in anything whatsoever, is immortal!

These facts should be known to all who practice the art of Mohs micrographic surgery/technique.

Lawrence M. Field, M.D., F.I.A.C.S.

Inaugural International Traveling Chair of Dermatologic Surgery

International Society of Dermatologic Surgery

References

1. Written e-mail communication, Whittaker, D., July 2009

2. Written e-mail communication, Dixon, G., July 2009

3. Written e-mail communication, Maloney, M., July 2009

4. H. Amspacher H, Curreri A. Use of Dextran in control of shock resulting from war wounds. AMA Arch Surg. 1953; 66):730-740

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