He had a shock of white hair, carried a black bag on house calls, mixed a good-natured wit with a sincere concern, and took care of patients even when they didn’t have the money to pay.
When Dr. Mitchell Forman thinks back on his own decision to become a physician, he remembers Dr. Max Cassell, that white-haired Brooklyn doctor who took care of Forman and his family when Forman was a boy in the 1940s and ’50.
“I had a wonderful experience with doctors growing up,” said Forman, also recalling the doctors who put him back together when he was injured while captain of his high school and college baseball teams. “Because my experiences with doctors were very positive, I never thought of becoming anything else,” said the UNLV School of Medicine professor.
After graduating from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York in 1969, he completed his doctor of osteopathic degree from the Kansas College of Osteopathic Medicine. Following a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in rheumatology, Forman practiced in his native New York until he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, in 1992 as a rheumatology faculty member at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
In 2004, then a vice president at the Texas university, Forman jumped at the chance to help found the Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine in Henderson, which welcomes students of all faiths but acknowledges its Orthodox Jewish roots by keeping a kosher campus and closing on Jewish holidays.
“Pearl, my wife of 48 years, and my family supported my decision to go from New York to Texas and then on to Nevada,” Forman says.” That meant a lot. Pearl is a professional in her own right, a P.A. (physician’s assistant).”
Moving to UNLV
He spent the next 12 years serving as Touro’s founding dean. During that time, he also served terms as president of the Nevada State Medical Association and the Clark County Medical Society — eventually stepping down from his administrative role at Touro. In November he relocated his rheumatology practice to UNLV.
“I get an opportunity to spend more time with my patients,” said Forman, who is one of about only 30 rheumatologists in Nevada. He’s booked already booked through February.
Today, as he looks back on his career, he says what’s brought him the most satisfaction is his work as a clinician, helping people deal with lupus and other musculoskeletal diseases and systemic autoimmune conditions commonly referred to as rheumatic diseases. Those diseases can affect the joints, muscles, and bones, causing swelling, stiffness, pain, and deformity.
He became the Nevada media’s expert on rheumatic diseases, explaining, for instance, Sjogren’s syndrome, the autoimmune disorder that caused tennis star Venus Williams to pull out of the 2011 U.S. Open. Sjogren’s affects as many as 4 million Americans, 90 percent of them women. A disorder in which white blood cells target the body’s moisture-producing glands, Sjogren’s hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, but many patients also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain. It often takes a person years to get the right diagnosis because symptoms may be mistaken by doctors for depression or menopause or just dry eyes.
“I continue to find rheumatology challenging and interesting,” he said. “We can do more for patients today.”
While at Touro, Forman was quick to diagnose why Nevada has a shortage of doctors. “We don’t have enough hospitals partnering with our medical schools to offer graduate medical education (residencies and fellowships).”
“Research has shown again and again that doctors end up practicing where they have their residencies or fellowships,” he said.
Today, he says graduate medical education in Nevada is moving in the right direction, with medical schools and hospitals and federal and state funding coming together to create more residencies and fellowship. “We are doing things more positively, so there will be fewer of our new doctors having to leave the state for graduate medical education.”
Forman’s work as both a clinician and founding dean has not gone unnoticed by the American College of Physicians (ACP). With 154,000 members, ACP is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States, after the American Medical Association. In November 2013, the organization voted to elect him to Mastership in the ACP, the first practicing physician in the state of Nevada to receive the honor. Mastership is conferred only on those who “represent the qualities of strength of character, integrity, bravery, perseverance, compassion, devotion, steadiness, and clinical competence.”
In October, Forman was notified by the ACP, which in 2016 had entered into a collaborative relationship with the renowned Royal College of Physicians-London, that he had been chosen to receive a prestigious fellowship in the British medical organization that also shares an “unfailing commitment to quality and excellence in the delivery of healthcare.”
"Becoming a member of the Royal College of Physicians is a very nice way for a kid from Brooklyn to transition to UNLV,” Forman said.