Mehne was climbing down Mt. Washington late last winter, when his right boot slipped
off of an ice shelf. He began to twirl and fall. As he did, the sharp spikes,
or crampons, on the bottom of his boot caught on another ledge. The momentum he'd
built up kept his body spinning, even though his foot had caught hold. His leg
did not turn. He landed on an ice shelf.
came the pain and then the slow realization that the injury was probably significant.
He had, in fact, sustained a spiral tibia/fibia fracture of his leg. But he didn't
panic. He knew he was in good hands.
of our graduates, who is a sports medicine physician, was with me," he says. "She
took excellent care of me until help arrived."
the dean for academic and student affairs at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical
School's (RWJMS) Camden campus, often invites students and graduates to join him
when pursuing his passions of mountaineering and hiking. Not because he wants
emergency medical care on hand - he usually doesn't get hurt - but because he
firmly believes participating in outdoor activities is essential to a person's
a great way for the students to exercise and forget the rigors of medical school
for a while. And we get to know each other in a different setting," he says. "But
I encourage my students to enjoy nature, even if they aren't able to go with me."
51-year-old dean's lifelong love of nature is evident. He biked, skied, climbed
and hiked as a boy. He was very active in the Boy Scouts, earning the highest
rank possible, Eagle Scout. In high school in his native Kennet Square, PA, he
excelled at environmental science. His physics teacher helped him get a National
Science Foundation grant to study solar power, and a biology teacher helped get
an American Cancer Society grant to look at the impact of various light waves
on biological organisms. He spent the summer before his senior year of high school
living on a fire tower outside Missoula, MT.
When the time for college rolled around, it was no surprise
that he chose the State University of New York College of Forestry at Syracuse.
Once there, he again investigated the environment he so loves. He did a research
project on prescribed burning - the controlled application of fire - to manage
and restore Western forests and served on an interregional fire crew in western
Montana and northern Idaho.
went on to earn a PhD in environmental science education and instructional development
at Syracuse University, where he fell in love twice: first, with Carol Starner,
the woman who became his wife in 1971, and next with the computer. While working
on his advanced degrees, he used the computer to do what is known as world systems
modeling, a method of calculating the effects on the earth of, say, increased
population, a famine or increased pollution. Computer technology was in its infancy
at the time, and Mehne became hooked. "It's a wonderful tool that has forever
changed our lives," he says. "We'd be foolish not to make the most of this valuable
after becoming a PhD in 1975, Mehne took a job at East Carolina University in
North Carolina. He got a chance to apply his knowledge of instructional development
by helping design and open a brand-new school of medicine. He helped in the development
of curriculum, planning and evaluating programs and recruiting faculty. "It was
a fantastic opportunity," he says. "There were challenges, of course, but it was
extremely rewarding to watch a fledgling medical school take shape and grow."
at East Carolina, Mehne developed an idea that was revolutionary at the time,
but is now widely used in medical schools, including RWJMS-Camden. When students
complete community preceptorships, they consult a lap top computer before determining
a diagnosis and recommending treatment. They access the American Medical Association's
AMAnet, or other sites, feed in a patient's complaints and symptoms and then receive
the most common and some less common diagnoses. The future physicians can also
download patient information to faculty, who then respond with suggestions for
treatment and make online assignments.
his 14 years there, Mehne also began taking students with him on climbs and treks.
And he and his wife began what became a long tradition of hosting students in
their home. He says his two daughters, Meredith, 29, and Amy, 22, probably feel
as if they have somewhere around 300 brothers and sisters. "We entertained at
least that many students in our home over the years," he says. "They would come
by for coffee or for dinner or just to chat. And we loved it."
also began the practice of being on call for the students 24/7, something he continues
to do at UMDNJ. "The students all have my home phone number, and they can reach
me when I'm away as well," he says. "I'm not expected to be on call, but I want
to be. I believe if students are treated with respect, compassion, and as adults
who can make their own decisions, they'll do the same for their patients. Being
available to them is one aspect of that."
1990 East Carolina's medical school was firmly established and well-respected,
so Mehne decided it was time to move on. He headed back up north to Philadelphia,
where he became associate dean for student and house staff affairs at the University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. But he found there was less to do there than
he had anticipated. Not being what he describes as a "custodial-type individual,"
Mehne made his way across the Delaware to RWJMS, Camden a year later. Since his
arrival he's been instrumental in developing many innovative programs.
enchanted with computers, Mehne has helped the campus utilize the most up-to-date
computer technology. He is past chair of the Academic Information Technology Advisory
Committee, which is a university-wide group dedicated to improving and enhancing
the use of technology in education, research and library activities. He is currently
serving as chair of theTele-education/Telemedicine/ Videoconferencing/Distance
of his improvements was to make video conferencing and telemedicine consultation
a part of everyday life on the Camden campus. Mehne received a grant to procure
eight, high-end video conference units in 1994, and then set up a network of courses
that are shared among RWJMS campuses. The first conference involved placing a
camera in the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital operating theater linked
to VTEL units in New Brunswick and Princeton. The cardiothoracic surgery conference
was conducted by Alan Spotnitz, MD, with RWJMS students on both campuses, while
Peter Scholz, MD, performed the surgery real-time.
thanks to Mehne, students can go online anytime to find course requirements and
syllabi, schedules, and a variety of case studies that might be helpful. They
also critique courses directly on the Web pages. Patient logs, which are part
of student evaluations, are also now being downloaded to the appropriate faculty
students are using Palm Pilots to keep track of vital patient information, as
well. When working in a team, they beam that information, for example lab results,
to the other members of the student/resident group before the discussion begins.
"We are living in a computer-based environment," Mehne says. "So if we want our
students to use computers as physicians, it should become a habit now. We also
put a great deal of emphasis on the need for patient privacy when using this technology."
But being a computer guru is only one area in which Mehne
has played an important role. One very significant accomplishment was the recent
establishment of an MD/JD dual program with the Rutgers University School of Law
in Camden. RWJMS is one of only seven medical schools in the country to offer
explains that in the third year of medical school, a student samples a few law
courses to confirm interest in the field. Then after completing that year, he
or she enrolls at the law school full-time for the next two years. The student
continues to work in a medical clinic, one half-day every other week, to maintain
clinical skills, and during the fourth year, completes both degrees.
far those in the program are pursuing the dual degree with the hopes of improving
the healthcare system, not to practice medical malpractice law, Mehne explains.
They might get jobs setting policy, running hospitals or working with HMOs, for
example. Since the program began a year and a half ago, three students are currently
participating, with a projected goal of one student entering the program every
are other programs that Mehne has launched with student colleagues, too, including
a Women Mentoring Women program, which involves female students visiting housing
projects in Camden, and a Continuity of Care elective that has a student become
involved in the medical care of an entire family, during his or her two years
encourages students to study in other parts of the world, too. Three students
studied high-altitude sicknesses from a base camp on Mt. Everest a few years ago,
and several students each year spend time in Chinle, AZ providing healthcare to
Native Americans there. International rotations are popular as well. "We want
our future physicians to have experiences here that they will never forget," he
says, "but we also want to reinforce that sense of wonder and caring they had
before entering medical school."
the most enduring contribution the dean has made is sharing the philosophy he
espouses. He believes students and faculty learn from each other. "Our students
give us energy and show us new ways to look at things," he says. "If they make
suggestions, we often try them. Nothing says that just because we always did it
one way, we have to continue. That's what learning is all about."
Mehne should know. After all, there's more than one way to climb a mountain.