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Xavier Magazine | April 30, 2017

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Profile: Francis M. Forster, M.D.

Greg Schaber

Francis M. Forster, M.D.
Class of 1934 | Retired dean, Georgetown University medical school; retired chair of the department of neurology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

On Call | In 1957, while dean of the medical school at Georgetown University, Forster was called to the White House to treat President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had suffered a stroke. Over the years, Forster served as a consulting physician for an impressive array of dignitaries, including Philippine President Elpidio Quirino and Cardinal Albert Meyer of Chicago. In 1958, with the Cold War in full swing, Forster chaired the first U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps medical exchange mission to the Soviet Union.

Expert Witness | Forster’s neurological reputation carried him to Dallas in 1964 where he served as an expert witness for the prosecution in the trial of Jack Ruby. Ruby’s attorney claimed his client’s epilepsy caused him to pull the trigger and kill Lee Harvey Oswald; Forster and several other experts found no trace of epilepsy in Ruby.

Quick Study | A Cincinnati native, Forster worked his way through Saint Xavier High School and entered the University in 1930. He completed his pre-med training in two years and moved on to medical school at the University of Cincinnati. He still claims allegiance to Xavier and the Class of 1934, though, and was given an honorary degree by the University in 1955.

Career Process | After post-graduate work in neurology at Harvard University, psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and physiology at Yale University, Forster became an instructor in neurology at Boston University in 1941. In 1943, he moved to Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and in 1950, moved again, to Georgetown University.

Double Duty | At Georgetown, Forster founded the department of neurology and served as its chair. After three years, he was appointed dean of the medical school. He managed both positions until 1958, when he accepted the positions of professor and chair of neurology at the University of Wisconsin.

Founding Father | While at Wisconsin, Forster and three colleagues from other schools founded the American Academy of Neurology. The organization began with 200 members; today membership stands at 14,000. In 1977, Forster founded the Francis M. Forster Epilepsy Center at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Madison, Wis.

A Legacy of Leaders | Under Forster, the training programs in neurology at Georgetown and Wisconsin produced more than 100 neurologists, eight of whom chaired departments of neurology in the United States and nine who chaired departments in other countries.

Getting It Write | Since his retirement in 1982, Forster has kept busy writing. Along with a family tree and his biography, he researched and wrote a history of Xavier’s class of 1934.

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