Remembering Ernie


Robert Osnos’56

During Ernest M. Vandeweghe Jr.’s years as a medical student at P&S, as a pediatric intern at Bellevue, and as a pediatric resident at Babies Hospital, he was a key player for the New York Knicks. The Knicks reached the NBA finals three times during these years.

When I was a first-year student at P&S, in 1952-53, my fellow students and I were all aware of Ernie’s double life as a medical student and professional basketball star. He did not play in out-of-town games during the week, but for home games he had to get to Madison Square Garden after a full day of classes, once or twice most weeks. What did he do if a class continued after 5 p.m.? He never did leave early. Instead he walked into Madison Square Garden as he was tying his sneakers then warmed up by running behind the Knicks bench.

When Ernie came back to Babies Hospital as a resident in 1954 he was married to Miss America of 1952, Colleen Kay Hutchins, whose brother Mel was also an NBA star. When she came to the medical center to visit, they ate in the cafeteria, sitting in a corner. Everyone made an effort not to obviously stare at the striking young couple.

I was fortunate during my senior month in Babies Hospital to have Ernie as my resident. We had a 3-year-old patient with tuberculous meningitis. She was doing very well but required a spinal tap every month. Ernie wrapped himself around her as I did the tap. She was still a moving target and I asked him, “You can stop Dolph Schayes [a great NBA center]. Why can’t you control her?” “With Dolph,” he replied, “there is something substantial to grab!”

My big moment during the month was to present a patient at rounds, probably to Dr. Rustin McIntosh, chairman of pediatrics. Ernie selected the patient, a boy with Down syndrome, and gave me several articles to read. For two hours he rehearsed me for the 5-10 minute presentation and prepared me for all the questions I could be asked.

Many people remember Ernie Vandeweghe, the pro basketball player, but I feel grateful to have had him as a great teacher during my medical school years.