‘Humbled’ Turner to lead Sprague College

By Lin Lofley

Dr. William Turner, Professor of Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center, remembers well the feelings he had when, as a Mentor of the medical school’s newly minted Estabrook College, he first met with the students.

William Turner, M.D.
William Turner, M.D.

“I was insanely jealous,” Dr. Turner said. “Why didn’t we have this when I was in medical school?”

Dr. Turner, who’s in his third stint on the faculty at UT Southwestern, recently became Master of Sprague College. He succeeds Dr. Shelley Roaten, who stepped down as Master of the College and faculty member at the end of May.

Dr. Gary Reed, Chief Quality Officer of UT Southwestern University Hospitals & Clinics and Headmaster of the six Academic Colleges established at the medical school, said, “Dr. Turner is an outstanding teacher and one of our most popular College mentors. He was the obvious choice to become the Master of the Sprague College.”

Dr. Turner said, “It was humbling beyond words to be asked to become the Master of Sprague College. I was shocked to get the call and, well, no one could pass up something like that.”

He expressed reluctance to leave the mentorship of students he has bonded with over the years at Estabrook College, but shared his excitement at moving to Sprague College.

In fact, it would be hard to quantify Dr. Turner’s level of enthusiasm between the College system and the medical students who are a part of it.

“The Colleges are just a fantastic thing,” he said. “They’ve just become an integral part of the university, and it really happened overnight. I can’t imagine them not being here.”

Dr. Turner attended Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Tulane University School of Medicine. He finished his residency at UT Southwestern in general surgery in 1977, served on active duty in the Air Force, and returned to UT Southwestern from 1979 to 1992.  He returned again in 2007.

How different medical school was when he was a student is striking, Dr. Turner said.

“It was like college, only harder,” he recalled. “We spent most of our time reading, with no patient interaction or any of the other parts of the educational process that students undergo today. But these young people are so sharp that I firmly believe we just need to show them the door and get out of the way.”

Dr. Turner, the son of a Louisiana farmer, cattleman, and horse breeder, experienced an early attraction to internal medicine before beginning his surgery rotations. His wife, Toni, saw the change in him shortly after he began to frequent the operating room.

“Quit looking,” Mrs. Turner said. “You’re where you should be.”

Although still a dedicated surgeon, he also looks forward to Wednesday afternoons, when he meets with medical students who are still seeking their own path. “I’ll try not to bias the students toward surgery,” he said. “I want them to find the area for them.”

There is a certain irony to the Tulane Medical School graduate taking the lead in Sprague College. The late Dr. Charles Cameron Sprague, the first President of UT Southwestern (1967-1986), served as President of Tulane Medical School prior to his arrival in Dallas. Dr. Turner recalls appreciating that the President of the UT Southwestern “remembered my name as a junior faculty member.”

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Dr. Reed holds the S.T. Harris Family Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine, named in Dr. Reed’s honor, the (Katy Sinor and Kay Pritchard) Professorship in Medical Education Honoring Donald W. Seldin, M.D.;  and the Eva A. Rosenthal Professorship in Internal Medicine, named in Dr. Reed’s honor.

Dr. Turner holds the Ernest Poulos, M.D., Distinguished Chair in Surgery.

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