Radiology’s Fuhrman was consummate educator and clinician

Carl Fuhrman, chief of the Thoracic Imaging Division of the School of Medicine’s Department of Radiology — memorialized as a “consummate medical educator, clinician and all-around academic radiologist” by his colleagues — died June 27, 2020, at 67.

“Carl was really unique,” recalled his department chair, Jules Sumkin. “Teaching was clearly his passion. People do it for different reasons. For Carl, it was down to the core of his being and satisfied something deeply in him.”

Just in the past several days, Sumkin said, he heard from one of Fuhrman’s medical school classmates, who recalls Fuhrman teaching her, even then. He has heard also from Fuhrman’s residents, who were still in touch with him today — a rare occurrence, Sumkin said. 

Fuhrman gave 7 a.m. conferences to any residents who wished to attend. “He just did it because he had a calling,” Sumkin said. “His profession here and the people he taught became his family.”

He also was famed for his clinical abilities: “His fund of knowledge was massive. He had a photographic memory. He could be reading a case, look at the name, and he would remember whether he’d seen a relative’s images. I would show him cases” — even cases in Sumkin’s specialty — “and I’d always learn something from him.”

Fuhrman mentored other junior faculty, including Sumkin, who joined the faculty just a few years after Fuhrman. “He was kind of a role model, someone I looked to, to see how they did it. It was very daunting to me because he was so accomplished and so smart at such a young age. But he was always very low-key about it. He would never make you feel ‘You will not get to the place where I’m at.’ ”

Fuhrman received the Ronald J. Hoy Excellence in Teaching Award from the Department of Radiology 15 times — to the point where the award was renamed for him. He won the University’s Golden Apple Award nine times, presented by the senior medical class in recognition of the best teacher each year. He also earned Pitt’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Fuhrman served as director of Undergraduate Medical Education and recently completed his tenure as president of the Alliance of Medical Student Educators in Radiology. He directed the medical school’s advanced radiology course and co-directed the anatomy life science course, and served on a variety of committees for his school and UPMC hospitals. He frequently presented lectures both in the United States and abroad and served as a visiting professor at multiple institutions.

Born in Erie on Aug. 11, 1952, Fuhrman earned his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine cum laude in 1979 and became an assistant professor in radiology in 1983 and a full professor in 1994. He was chief of thoracic radiology almost continuously for the past 27 years.

“Carl’s gift of teaching was rivaled only by his academic and clinical prowess,” remembered Jacob W. Sechrist, interim section chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Imaging. “He had an impressive track record of research involving interstitial lung disease, emphysema and lung cancer.” Fuhrman, he said, had a work ethic that was “astounding. … He has inspired all of us in our daily work and will be deeply missed.”

“Carl Fuhrman was an irreplaceable treasure in the medical community,” added Christopher N. Faber, faculty member in the school’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine. He noted that Fuhrman “was a central figure in the education of over 180 pulmonologists” from the school over the past 35 years, including those attending his weekly thoracic radiology conferences. 

“I happened to attend the last such conference he gave,” said Faber, “in which he taught me about a pulmonary disease previously unknown to me (and I have been a pulmonologist for 33 years). The most prominent physicians in the region across numerous specialties would seek out his opinion to help guide the care of their patients with thoracic disease.”

Fuhrman and his colleagues had moved a few years ago to the new south tower of UPMC Presbyterian, where the waiting area has high windows looking over Oakland, past the medical center, the Cathedral of Learning and even beyond Carnegie Mellon University.

“The image that I have most of him,” said Sumkin, “I can remember coming in for a very early meeting and seeing Carl standing by himself, looking out those windows, just appreciating the view, and he was very happy to be here.”

He is survived by three sisters, Barbara Pugel (late Lud Pugel), Mary McIlroy (Bill) and Carol Hagen; nieces Stacey Serafini (Chris) and Elizabeth Pugel Runevitch (Scott); nephews Paul Hagen (Laura), Jeff Pugel (Alina) and John McIlroy (Katie); great-niece Sophia Pugel; and great-nephews Will Pugel and John McIlroy.

A memorial service is planned for noon July 15 outside UPMC Presbyterian. Memorial gifts are suggested to the Carl Fuhrman Radiology Education Fund, Division of Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement, University of Pittsburgh, 128 N. Craig St., Pittsburgh, PA 15260.

— Marty Levine