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How I Made It: Dr. Richard Frankenstein

Specialist in humanity

September 14, 2008|Lisa Girion | Times Staff Writer

The job: President of the California Medical Assn., the state's largest physician professional group; Orange County internist specializing in lung diseases.

His name: Is often presumed to be Dr. Franken-STINE, like the scientist who creates the monster in Mary Shelley's novel. It is actually pronounced Franken-STEEN. Also, unlike the fictitious Dr. Frankenstein, this physician doesn't create life; he simply tries to prolong it.

How often people make jokes about his name: "Not more than 25 times a day."

Why it works for him: "When people are having trouble writing down my name, I always say, like the movies. Or, when somebody's really having a problem with me, I say, 'You've seen my films?' I've had a lot of fun with it over the years. Very few people forget meeting me."

Education: Bachelor of arts from Brooklyn College; MD from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

First job: A surgical research assistant in a dog laboratory in high school, working without pay for three years and for pay in the fourth.

Biggest obstacle: "Competition. Brooklyn College was full of these hyper-intelligent, motivated kids. It was just frightening how smart they were, and when I entered medical school there were only about 9,500 first-year places nationwide. Now it's almost double that -- far fewer than we need."

Best part of the job: "Is when people realize that you helped them and they thank you. A lot of what I do is minor adjustments in people's medications, helping them work through what they can do and they can't do. I don't do major surgeries."

Favorite patients: "Guys in their 30s who suddenly find they are out of breath at the gym. I give them a little metered-dose inhaler, a little [medicine] puffer, and say, 'Try this for two weeks and come back.' They usually come back before and thank me because I've given them their lives back and they can go back to the gym" in spite of their exercise-induced asthma.

Advice for doctor wannabes: "Try to find some way to volunteer or work in some capacity in a hospital or a clinic setting to get an idea of what we really do to make sure that's for you. Most people haven't been around very sick people, and that can be a shocker. It can be kind of scary."

Story he tells medical students: "I rescued an elderly patient after a very long stay in ICU over Christmas 1980. She came back over Christmas in 1981 with the same problems -- and cancer. I could not rescue her. She had 10 children. I was dealing with trying to explain 10 times that things were not going well. Some time later, I got a letter from her children saying, 'Mother wanted you to know that in the year of life you gave her she was able to visit all her relatives, the national parks and Reno and Vegas. Thank you.' The line that touched me was 'the year of life you gave her.' That's above my pay grade, but I did my best."

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lisa.girion@latimes.com

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Got an idea for How I Made It, a weekly feature in the Business section? Send it to howimadeit@latimes.com.

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