Practice with a Caring Heart: Kurt Kleinmann ’59

Published on 21 March 2017

In 1941, Kurt Kleinmann’59, R.Ph., M.S., left Vienna for the United States. He was only 11 years old when the devastating conditions in Vienna forced his mother to send her son overseas to escape the same fate as his father and brother, who had been arrested two years prior and would survive six years in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Kleinmann does not know how his mother found the means to send him to the U.S. and confesses that saying goodbye to his mother and sister Herta is a memory buried too deep in his mind to recall. Both his mother and sister would be murdered by the Nazis after being transported to Minsk in June 1942. The memories from that time are heavy, but Kleinmann has carried his mother’s incredible act of love with him in everything that he does.

A prominent family of lawyers in New Bedford, Massachusetts, took in young Kleinmann. He knew no English, with the exception of “yes” and “no” and eventually the poem “Pat-a-Cake.” Kleinmann went on to show exceptional skill in math and science and had his eyes set on a future in aeronautical engineering. When he told his high school counselor of his plans, he was instructed to take mechanical drawing. After a taste of the tedious work of technical lettering, Kleinmann began to think of an alternative future.

His aptitude for math and science, coupled with his experience working in a community pharmacy, led him to the profession of pharmacy. After graduating from Rhode Island College of Pharmacy in 1952 (now the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy), Kleinmann applied to Ohio State University. However, he was only able to attend for one year before he was drafted into the military. After serving the majority of his two years in Germany, he was assigned to a hospital in Salzburg, Austria, where he would be reunited with his father and brother after 15 years of separation.

Upon returning home, Kleinmann realized that hospital pharmacy was where he wanted to dedicate his efforts. He contacted The Johns Hopkins Hospital regarding their residency program but was instead offered a position in their pharmacy department, at the time under the direction of Arthur Purdum, the first Harvey A. K. Whitney Lecture Award recipient. After two years, he was promoted to supervisor, heading the manufacturing area, until he realized that graduate study and residency was the next stop on his journey.

Kleinmann used the GI Bill to apply for VA residency training and graduate school. He was hoping for an assignment in California when he received a letter from St. Louis College of Pharmacy inviting him to pursue a residency at the St. Louis VA Medical Center–John Cochran Division under the tutorship of Norman Hammelman ’43.

“Taking the offer in St. Louis was the best decision I ever made,” Kleinmann said. “Norman Hammelman was an outstanding preceptor. Though it was in his best interest to keep me at the VA, he felt his job was to teach me hospital pharmacy. He made arrangements with the other hospitals in St. Louis, called the pharmacy residency directors and said, ‘I have a resident. You can work him as hard as you want, but you have to teach him something.’ As a result of that, I rotated through a number of hospitals and was even assigned to the commissioner of St. Louis to survey the city’s hospitals.”

Kleinmann was only in St. Louis for two years, and during that time he balanced earning a master’s degree with a growing family.

“I was already married and had two children in St. Louis. My wife and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Maplewood,” Kleinmann recalled. “It was tough. We were on duty 28 hours a week at the hospital and spent the remaining time at the College. We even had keys to the College due to our late night labs. It was a great group, and we formed a special bond during that time.”

Since graduating from the College with a Master of Science in 1959, Kleinmann has demonstrated a commitment to lifelong learning. He has anticipated many trends in pharmacy that have come in to fruition. In his 1994 lecture given at the acceptance of the Harvey A.K. Whitney Lecture Award, he outlined the need for pharmacists to have prescribing privileges and the value of interdisciplinary care.

During his time at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, Kleinmann pioneered their clinical pharmacy program. The program was host to 12 pharmacists who worked in all areas of the hospital alongside their fellow health care providers.

In his Whitney Award lecture, Kleinmann closed with a reflection on how sailing translates into his everyday life.

“I am a sailor,” he said. “To be a good sailor, one must shift to a new track, or ‘come about’ as the wind changes. Pharmacy practice is continually changing. Do this with a caring heart for your patients.”

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