“From the beginning, I knew my fellowship was going to be very different from my residency,” says Robert J. Champer, M.D., Ph.D., Fel. ’95. Champer completed his ophthalmology fellowship at UW Medicine; he worked with Robert E. Kalina, M.D., former chair of the Department of Ophthalmology.

“It was an absolutely wonderful experience,” says Champer. “He would be one-on-one with you in the clinic and in the operating room. Technically, he taught me how to be a first-rate clinician and surgeon. But more than that, he taught me how to be a doctor — how to listen to patients, how to comfort them.”

Champer, a retina specialist who practices in Eugene, Ore., is not the only physician impressed by Kalina’s mentorship style. At an alumni event in 2009, Champer and others Kalina trained began talking about “what a role model he was, and how we needed to acknowledge that.” From those conversations, which included Elaine Chuang, M.D., Res. ’83, Samuel G. Farmer, M.D. ’79, Res. ’84, and Debra Graham, M.D., Res. ’96, among others, the idea for an endowed professorship honoring Kalina was born.

The Robert E. Kalina, M.D., Endowed Professorship for Ophthalmology Education is one of the few professorships at UW Medicine specifically designed to promote teaching. Kalina, who still teaches, is grateful for this focus. He believes that, when it comes to funding for the “three-legged stool” of research, education and patient care, the teaching component can get short shrift.

“Simultaneously there have been increased responsibilities placed on people who run training programs,” Kalina says. “There’s competition between earning your own way with patient care and with teaching, which doesn’t generate revenue.” Kalina hopes that the professorship — which will serve as one stable, reliable source of funding — will help rectify that imbalance by supporting a faculty member focused on teaching and training.

Russell N. Van Gelder, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Boyd K. Bucey Memorial Endowed Chair in Ophthalmology, concurs. “The stresses on education funding have made this kind of philanthropy essential to continuing our mission,” he says.

Van Gelder observes that the professorship is more than an asset to the department. It is also a wonderful tribute to Kalina, a member of the department for 44 years: 27 as chair, 26 as director of the residency program, and 15 as director of the vitreoretinal fellowship program. “He set outstanding educational standards for our training, particularly our residency training, which persist to this day,” says Van Gelder.

Kalina demurs, saying that “the most important ingredient in teaching is the student.” But it is clear from the outpouring of support for the professorship that Kalina has had an extraordinary impact on his trainees and peers. The many donors who have pledged to fund the professorship include a number of Kalina’s colleagues, 60 former trainees and a generous anonymous donor.

“The No. 1 thing is to acknowledge the effect that this man has had on tens of thousands of patients,” says Champer. “But I’m also hoping that this funding will attract another person like Dr. Kalina, who can take up that mantle and go forward with it.”

Professor Emeritus Robert E. Kalina, M.D., and chief ophthalmology resident Sharel Ongchin, M.D., at top, study images of a patient’s choroidal melanoma. Recognizing his many contributions to education at UW Medicine, a number of Kalina’s peers and trainees have created a professorship in his name.