1991 - William C. Bernstein, M.D.

William C. Bernstein
William C. Bernstein

William C. Bernstein, M.D. – 1920: Physician, internationally recognized for his pioneering work in colon and rectal surgery, a member of University of Minnesota Medical School faculty.



William C. Bernstein, M.D.

Courtesey of the University of Minnesota

William C. Bernstein, M.D., was born in 1904 in Stillwater, Minnesota.  In 1921 he entered the combined six-year pre-medical and medical course at the University of Minnesota, where he received his B.S. in 1925 and M.B. in 1927.  Upon the completion of the required internship, he was granted his M.D. in 1928.  Dr. Bernstein began medical practice in New Richland, a village of fewer than 800 people in southern Minnesota.  For the next several years he practiced as a country doctor.  Following a severe streptococcal throat infection from which he nearly died, Dr. Bernstein was advised to give up his country practice for the sake of his health.  Faced with the need to change the course of his professional life, in 1940 he entered the University of Minnesota as a graduate student in the Department of Surgery in order to study the growing field of proctology.

After three years (1943-6) serving in the U.S. Army, Dr. Bernstein returned to Minnesota to begin a rectal service at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Minneapolis.  In May 1950 the American Board of Proctology conducted its first certifying examination and Bernstein was one of six candidates to take the examination successfully.  Two months later, at Bernstein’s urging, the Medical School at the University of Minnesota established a proctology residency program.  The first resident was a Canadian, Dr. Earl Myers, who after his return to his home city of Toronto was the first board-certified proctologist to practice in Canada.

While developing the residency program in colon and rectal surgery during the 1950’s and 1960’s, Bernstein also expanded the annual continuing education course in colon and rectal disease.  The course had been launched in 1938 as a one-day course in proctology designed to teach general practitioners how to use the proctoscope and how to recognize the various forms of colon and rectal disease.  By 1963 Bernstein had expanded the course to five days, and it attracted both general practitioners and surgeons from the whole of North America.  Though a progressive muscular atrophy forced Bernstein to retire from active surgical practice in 1967, and to retire from practicing medicine in 1972, he continued his work in other ways, through education, consultation, and fundraising.  Since 1988, the William C. Bernstein, M.D., Memorial Lecture, presented every year at the Colon and Rectal Surgery: Principles and Practice course, has carried on Dr. Bernstein’s tradition of excellence in medical education.