James A. Merrill, MD

James A. Merrill, MD

James A. Merrill, MD (January 16, 2014)

Dr. James A. Merrill, former Executive Director of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a nationally known academic physician, died on January 16, 2014. He was 88 years old. Dr. Merrill received his BA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1945, and his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1948. After serving in the U.S. Ai r Force Medical Corps, Merrill returned to UCSF in 1953, where he completed residency training and became an assistant professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology. In 1957, he was named a Markle Scholar in Medical Science.

In 1961, when he was only thirty-five years old, Dr. Merrill became Professor and the first Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. He chaired the department until l 983, when he was appointed Executive Director of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and moved to Seattle. In 1993, Dr. Merrill retired, and he and his wife moved to Moraga, California.

Dr. Merrill considered himself primarily a medical educator. Regardless of how intense his other duties—which included administrative, research and clinical—were, his primary allegiance was to the education of fellow physicians. No group superseded medical students in this, his major passion. Teaching time was inviolate. At once fiercely demanding and inspiring, he received the University of Oklahoma's Regents' Award for Superior Teaching in 1969, and he was repeatedly selected by medical students to receive the Aesculapian Award for teaching.

His many publications included a co-edited textbook. His work continues to be recognized at the University of Oklahoma by the James A. Merrill Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology and the James A. Merrill Award, given annually to a third-year medical student for academic and clinical excellence in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Dr. Merrill was never one to shy away from controversy, and in fact enjoyed defending issues and practices that were not well-accepted at the time. These included access to care for all, contraception, training of Nurse Practitioners, the presence of fathers in the delivery room, and gender re-assignment surgery. He was a humanist who reveled in ethical controversies and designed his arguments in a logical and enthusiastic fashion. He was instrumental in co-founding two organizations: The Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics and The International Society for Advancement of Humanistic Studies in Gynecology. In the presentation he prepared for the latter organization in 2011, he continued to advocate for the dignity of patients—particularly women. He admonished doctors to "relate to the patient, not to yourself."

Dr. Merrill led an exciting and robust life combining his medical and artistic pursuits; today he would be considered a Renaissance Man. His breadth of knowledge in medicine was astonishing. During the preparation of board examinations, his knowledge far exceeded that of specialists in Reproductive Endocrinology, Gynecologic Oncology, and Maternal/Fetal Medicine—in addition to generalists. He was usually right, and bargaining was never an option. He had a subtle tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, although paradoxically, he could also be impish at times. In another life, he could have been a very successful thespian.

James Merrill represented the best in our field. He had tremendous integrity and honesty. This is best exemplified by controversies surrounding the boards; many thought that he was arbitrary in his decisions, but in truth he ran the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology "strictly by the book." He often said that if he didn’t like what was in the book, in the next publication of the guidelines, it would be necessary to "change the book."

He was the classical "tough teacher" that one only appreciates in retrospect. He garnered tremendous respect from all who interacted with him. He also had an inscrutable side. Overall, Dr. James Merrill was a brilliant character and looked the part—just picture his countenance.

He married Patricia Gallagher in 1949 and together they raised four daughters. He was devoted not only to his family, but also to all the people he liked.

Submitted by Alan H. DeCherney, MD and John O. L. DeLancey, MD

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