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Dr. Gershon Efron, retired Sinai Hospital chief of surgery and teacher, dies

The offices of the Sinai Hospital Department of Surgery are named in honor of Dr. Gershon Efron.
The offices of the Sinai Hospital Department of Surgery are named in honor of Dr. Gershon Efron.

Dr. Gershon Efron, a retired Sinai Hospital surgeon who was remembered as a superb teacher, died of an infection June 8 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Stevenson resident was 91.

Chief of surgery at Sinai Hospital from 1977 to 1998, he also taught Johns Hopkins medical students and residents who rotated to Sinai for training.

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Born in Cape Town, South Africa, he was the son of Shochna Efron, an orthodox rabbi, and his wife, Eve. He earned a medical degree at the University of Capetown, where he was given the university’s gold medal in zoology.

His son, Dr. Jonathan Efron, said his father as a young medical student worked in the lab of Dr. Christiaan Barnard, who is credited with performing the first successful human-to-human heart transplant.

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After completing a residency at Groote Schuur Hospital, he left South Africa and had a fellowship at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. While studying medicine there, he met his future wife, Jane Goosey, who was then a nurse at St. George’s Hospital in London.

In 1965 he moved to New York City as a surgeon and professor at the Albert Einstein Medical College. He was also chief of surgery at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx.

He came to Baltimore in 1977 when he was named surgeon-in-chief at Sinai Hospital.

“My father was a true general surgeon,” his son said. “He operated on everything and was known for his work in endocrine surgery and thyroid conditions. He was also a superb teacher.”

Dr. Tyler Cymet, chief of clinical education for the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine, recalled of Dr. Efron: “He lived at Sinai Hospital. He was always there.”

He also said, “He taught me about the teachable moment. When there was a crisis, he was calm, confident, he knew how to fix it and he did. He was a good person and a better surgeon.”

Dr. Cymet said Dr. Efron was a popular teacher who was tough and sought the right answer from his students.

“He liked to be challenged and to compete, but he also liked to win,” Dr. Cymet said. “He knew when he was helping you and he knew when he had connected.”

Dr. Cymet said Dr. Efron coined a term related to one of his thyroid surgeries “the Space of Efron” or Efron’s Friendly Space,” which he called the spot between the thyroid and the parathyroid.

“He found if he put his finger in that spot, it reduced the chances of a patient bleeding and the surgery could be done safely,” Dr. Cymet said.

Dr. Adrian Barbul, a former Sinai colleague now at Vanderbilt University, said: “He was an excellent surgeon and an excellent teacher, qualities not always found in one person. He was inspiring and had a way of taking complex issues and making them understandable and memorable. He had a broad surgical knowledge and inspired others to ask questions. He was a wonderful mentor that way.”

Dr. John L. Cameron, a Johns Hopkins distinguished service professor, said: “Gershon was an absolutely wonderful gentleman and an excellent surgeon. His forte was teaching. Our Hopkins house staff rotated out to Sinai where they learned from him — he was voted their most popular teacher. This was because he was a kind and considerate person.”

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He was the 1985 recipient of Sinai Hospital’s Golden Apple Award. He was given the Johns Hopkins Surgical Residents’ Teaching Award on two occasions as well as a Most Valued Faculty Award in 1999. He was a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

The offices of the Sinai Hospital Department of Surgery are named in his honor.

He was the co-author of numerous scientific articles, including one about the increase in stomach cancer.

Dr. Efron, the father of three sons, saw each of them graduate from medical school and become physicians.

“My father never pushed us into the field,” Dr. Jonathan Efron said. “But he did teach me.”

An annual medical lecture is given in his name at Johns Hopkins. The lecture is sponsored by Sinai Hospital.

In addition to his son and wife of more than 60 years, who taught English at Woodlawn High School, survivors include two other sons, Dr. David Efron of Ruxton and Dr. Philip Efron of Gainesville, Florida, and four grandchildren.

Funeral services are private.

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