About Jack Arthur Pritchard, M.D.

Jack Arthur Pritchard, M.D., became the second Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Southwestern Medical School on September 1, 1955, replacing Stewart Fish, M.D., who had served as acting chair since July of that year.

At 33, Dr. Pritchard was the youngest chair of obstetrics and gynecology in the nation. But, he was by no means “unseasoned.” A product of the World War II Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), his medical education was interrupted by active duty. Experience proved a good mentor.

In March 1955, less than a year after completing his delayed residency in Ob/Gyn, a Southwestern Medical School search committee approached Dr. Pritchard about becoming Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

The medical school was in the midst of turmoil — the result of a dispute over who should treat cervical cancer. Long the province of radiologists, the advent of the Pap smear in the late 1940s afforded the opportunity to detect cancer of the cervix much earlier. And, William Mengert, M.D. — then chair of Ob/Gyn — and Ralph Clayton, M.D. — in charge of Radiology at Parkland — “battled it out” for treatment rights. 

“Had I known the intensity of the battle between the radiologist, Ralph Clayton, and William Mengert, the Chairman of Ob/Gyn, and how it nearly consumed the town/gown relationships, I probably would have declined the position.”
Jack A. Pritchard, M.D. from Every Life Has A Story And This Is Mine, p. 6

Dr. Pritchard was instrumental in bringing about a resolution by suggesting that Southwestern hire Frederick Bonte, M.D., a radiologist whom Dr. Pritchard had worked with at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University). Together, the newly formed Department of Radiology (established in 1956) and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology mended the fences with community physicians and avoided a permanent town–gown schism.

With more than 4,000 deliveries annually and one faculty member — who had announced on Dr. Pritchard’s arrival that he was leaving to become a cruise-ship doctor — Dr. Pritchard needed the help of physicians from the community in teaching medical students, residents, and fellows. The Department was responsible for instructing 200 junior and senior medical students, 25 interns, and 12 residents in obstetrics and gynecology. During his first year as chair, deliveries at Parkland exceeded 4,600 — a new record according to a November 25, 1956 article in the Dallas Morning News.

The clinical system he inherited was far from integrated. Dr. Pritchard, like his predecessor, was Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Parkland and administrator for all the prenatal clinics in the area. There were clinics run by the City Health Department, clinics run by County Health Department, and clinics run by Parkland. None coordinated with the other. And, while Dr. Pritchard was officially in charge of them all, he had no authority. Old practices remained entrenched, and nurses openly told Dr. Pritchard that they did not work for him.

Over time, he gained the confidence and respect of the community and its physicians. With the help of his wife, Signe, and a cadre of very dedicated and loyal residents, fellows, and faculty, gradually Dr. Pritchard was able to overcome obstacles and forge the system that today is a model for integrated women’s health care.

“He demanded the best care possible for Parkland patients, and his unwavering eye for detail ensured that it would be given.”
F. Gary Cunningham, M.D. from American Gynecological Society obituary

Recognition of his leadership came in the form of the Department’s first endowment — the Gillette Professorship of Obstetrics and Gynecology established by Mr. and Mrs. W. Everett DuPuy and the Fred G. Gillette or Maggie R. Gillette Foundation of Houston. (Dr. Fred G. DuPuy, the donor’s son, was a 1963 graduate of Southwestern Medical School.) Named to the professorship in 1966, Dr. Pritchard held the position until his retirement in 1990.

In 1969, Southwestern Dean (and later President) Charles Sprague, M.D., asked Dr. Pritchard to establish a maternal health and family planning program in Dallas as part of the Goals for Dallas set forth by Mayor Erik Jonson. The program successfully married the contributions of disparate factions and private philanthropy to establish eight clinics in underserved areas of Dallas County. It was a successful model that was adopted elsewhere. Interestingly, Dallas avoided the riots found in other metropolitan areas where family planning clinics were opened.

But in addition to direct patient care, the Dallas Maternal Health and Family Planning Program led to important research on contraceptive devices and the safety of the birth control pill for women who had previously suffered from pregnancy-induced hypertension.

The seeds for this kind of research had been planted early in Dr. Pritchard’s career. Unimpressed by obstetrics and gynecology as it was practiced in the mid-1940s, a year of active duty in Sendai, Japan had reawakened his enthusiasm for the specialty. Then one day during his delayed residency training (1950–1954), he noticed that the blood he had drawn from a pregnant woman with eclampsia (toxemia of pregnancy) had hemolyzed. (Hemolysis occurs when red cells break open releasing hemoglobin into the surrounding plasma.)

“If it’s internal medicine academic physicians are talking about, it’s Donald Seldin; if it’s Ob/Gyn, it’s Jack Pritchard.”

Norman F. Gant, M.D.,
Center Times, February 2002, p.4

This event and subsequent research transformed the treatment for the convulsions associated with this disease. His protocol for the use of magnesium sulfate in treating eclamptic convulsions was the death knell for the use of morphine. Science had met reproductive medicine. The practice of obstetrics and gynecology was forever changed — to the benefit of women everywhere.

Throughout his chairmanship, Dr. Pritchard continued his investigative studies and was recognized as a pioneer in elucidating the hematological changes that occur during pregnancy. In 1966, he was invited to contribute the hematologic sections for the 13th edition of the textbook Obstetrics, edited by Drs. Nicholson Eastman and Louis Hellman at Johns Hopkins.

“Beginning single-handedly, Jack developed a department which excelled not only as practitioners of the art of obstetrics and gynecology but one which excelled in teaching and investigation as well.”

Paul C. MacDonald, M.D.,
20 August 1971 letter

Although the challenges were great and the roadblocks at times seemed insurmountable, Dr. Pritchard persevered for 15 years. He built the Department up from scratch. In the process, he attracted young physicians, intrigued by his investigative approach to medicine. They came to train and stayed to join the faculty. His tenure as chair marked the birth of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology as we know it today. 

He also brought prestige to the Department and University when in 1969 he was asked to become the senior author/editor of the seminal obstetrical textbook, Williams Obstetrics, and moved the book from Johns Hopkins to Southwestern Medical School. Through this venue, Dr. Pritchard made a significant impact on the way women’s health care was practiced world-wide. But, it was his leadership at home that transformed the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and brought it academic distinction.

“… Dr. Pritchard has had an outstanding career as an investigator. Uniquely, he has combined an investigative career which encompasses both basic and clinical studies and has interwoven these two interests in such a way that his laboratory endeavors have formulated the ground work and matrix for the development of new patient care procedures and the rational approach to difficult obstetric and gynecologic problems.”
Paul C. MacDonald, M.D.
from 20 August 1971 letter to Dean Charles C. Sprague, M.D.

After 15 years as chair, Dr. Pritchard turned over the reins to Paul C. MacDonald — first as acting chair in 1969 and then as permanent chair September 1, 1970. Dr. Pritchard continued as Chief of Obstetrics at Parkland and senior author/editor of Williams Obstetrics. His contributions to women’s health care continued as well, and he mentored and inspired successive generations of medical students, residents, and fellows.

Yet, he never forgot that his patients, though uneducated, were not ignorant. They were women with names — not diseases. And, each of them had her own story to tell, if you would but listen.