RETINA PIONEER

Edward W.D. Norton, MD—‘The Chief’

1922-1994

Contributed by Harry W. Flynn Jr, MD, FASRS and Patricia Norton

"Founding Five" of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute: John Flynn, Donald Gass, Edward Norton, Lawton Smith and Victor Curtain
Photo courtesy Harry W. Flynn, Jr, MD, FASRS

Edward W.D. Norton, MD, served as chief and chairman of ophthalmology for 36 years at the University of Miami. During his tenure, he founded the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, which he named after the man who started the dream of a research, teaching, and clinical institute.

He was known for recruiting individuals who became leaders in the field, including Drs. Victor T. Curtin, J. Donald M. Gass, Robert Machemer, and John T. Flynn. Dr. Norton, always a humble man, never took credit for what he had built, always recognizing that it was the people (from cleaning crew to operating room staff) who built the Institute.

He was a father figure to both faculty and house staff. Dr. Norton, fondly referred to as the Chief, was loved by his colleagues, staff, and patients.

The Norton Principles
Courtesy Harry W. Flynn, Jr, MD, FASRS

Edward Norton was a well-recognized retina specialist and surgeon who received local and worldwide referrals. His leadership positions included: chairman, American Board of Ophthalmology; president, American Academy of Ophthalmology; president, American Ophthalmological Society; editorial board member, American Journal of Ophthalmology, and many others.

His honors include the Lang Medal from the American Academy of Medicine, the Howe Medal from the American Ophthalmological Society, the Mildred Weisenfeld Award from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, and the Duke Elder International Medal from the International Council of Ophthalmology.

Dan Jones, MD, credits the “Norton Principles” as the keys to Dr. Norton’s success. One of these principles was his role as caretaker of the faculty: “Like a gardener, I pick the plants, cultivate the flowers, and then watch the flowers bloom,” Dr. Norton said.

highlights

1958

Accepted position as the chief of the Division of Ophthalmology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, which opened in 1952, because the job presented a “golden opportunity to create a center of excellence for eye care”

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1962

Founded the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

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1972

Selected to give the Jackson Memorial Lecture at the American Academy of Ophthalmology and presented “Role of Intraocular Gas in the Management of Selected Retinal Detachments,” in which he described the use of air in giant retinal tears and proliferative vitreoretinopathy

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Academic Appointment

1956-2006

  • Instructor, Surgery (Ophthalmology), Cornell University Medical College
  • Assistant Professor of Surgery (Ophthalmology), Cornell University Medical College
  • Associate Professor and Chief, Division of Ophthalmology, University of Miami School of Medicine
  • Professor and Chairman, Division of Ophthalmology, University of Miami School of Medicine

Education & Training

Observership: Charles Schepens

Fellowships:

  • Retina Service, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, with Charles Schepens, MD        
  • Wilmer Institute of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, with Frank Walsh, MD, and Harrell Pierce, MD
  • Howe Laboratory, with David Cogan, MD
  • Mayo Clinic, with Wilber Rucker, MD

Residency: Cornell Medical College-New York Hospital

Medical School: Cornell Medical School

Undergraduate: Harvard University

Reflections

Gary W. Abrams, MD

Gilles Desroches, Gary Abrams, Stanley Chang, Harry Flynn, and Ed Norton in the halls of Bascom Palmer, 1979
Photo courtesy Gary Abrams, MD

Edward W.D. Norton, MD, aka the Chief, is remembered as the founder of the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and for his vision in bringing in great ophthalmologists and building one of the premier ophthalmology programs in the world. While I remember well his leadership and values, I also remember that Dr. Norton was one of the best clinicians I have ever seen. 

Dr. Norton and his fellows played a little game when I worked in his clinic as a fellow at Bascom Palmer in 1977-1978: who could find something on the retina examination that the others missed? In Dr. Norton’s clinic, I learned to be a good examiner. His clinics would start at about 1:00 PM and would often last until late in the evening, well after everybody else was gone for the day.  

I would examine and present the patient to Dr. Norton; he would listen to my presentation, examine the patient—and no matter how carefully I described everything I saw, he always found at least one thing I had not seen or noted. 

As the year went on, I spent more and more time with each patient, trying to identify something Dr. Norton missed, but I don’t think I was ever successful. The gap between our examinations narrowed, but he always managed to beat me. To this day, his is the gold standard for retina examination, and I hope I have conveyed that standard to my residents and fellows.



Harry W. Flynn Jr, MD, FASRS

Edward Norton’s legacy is felt strongly today at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. He is still prominently featured during all new-hire orientations for his founding role. Dr. Norton’s vision of providing top-quality eye care to all members of the community, regardless of financial status, continues.


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