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Heritage Snapshot: Part 167

By Richard Schaefer
Community Writer
03/01/2023 at 03:16 PM

John E. Peterson, MD (CME Class of 1939) was Associate Dean of Loma Linda University School of Medicine and chair of its Department of Medicine. 

John Eric Peterson was born in Norwalk, Ohio, on October 26, 1914. To have been born to a father from Sweden and a mother from Ohio, he considered a most fortuitous beginning. He attended Norwalk Public Schools, where he played the violin in several school and church orchestras. His father’s illness and death when John was 14 stimulated his interest in medicine, for he was impressed with both the professional and personal skills of his father’s physician. At 19, after four years at Mt. Vernon Academy and two at Columbia Union College, he began medical school at the Loma Linda College of Medical Evangelists (LLU).  During his first two “coop” years, he alternated months in school with months at Los Rios Rancho in Oak Glen, where he cared for the owner. Upon graduating in 1938, he married Lodene Pruett, a dietician he had met while they both were students on the Loma Linda campus, and the two moved to Detroit where he began his internship and residency at the Henry Ford Hospital.  

Although Dr. Peterson had intended to become a primary care physician in northern Ohio, his residency mentors whetted his appetite for internal medicine and endocrinology, and then he was wooed by the urgings of Drs. Percy T. Magan and Walter E. Macpherson to help relieve an acute shortage of CME faculty during World War II.  Within a few years, however, he had become “hooked” by bedside teaching because he said it was the best way for students and house staff to learn and because it also allowed him to learn something new almost every day. Like several other young faculty, he adopted Dr. Macpherson’s question to students: “Yes, but have you examined the patient before drawing those conclusions?”  

Dr. Peterson also relished experiences from other cultures. Accompanied by his wife, he developed commitments to international medical education through visiting professorships and consultantships in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Peru, Nigeria, Vietnam, and the United Kingdom.  He was particularly active in LLU’s collaboration with Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, India.  In one of his journals from 1992, he taped a quotation from Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely…. Broad, wholesome, charitable views…cannot be acquired by vegetating in one’s little corner of the earth.” He often commented that although it was important for missionaries from Loma Linda to help improve medical care and local plumbing in other countries, it was equally important for them to learn about themselves through the eyes of others.  

With the exception of a year’s fellowship in endocrinology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Peterson made a lifetime commitment to Loma Linda University School of Medicine, chairing the Department of Medicine for 14 years and serving as an associate dean for 12 years.  He also was one of several faculty members who worked to consolidate the School of Medicine on the Loma Linda campus. “The institution owes him a lot,” reflected former Dean David B. Hinshaw Sr. MD.  A founding member of Alpha Omega Alpha, he was honored as Alumnus of the Year by both the School of Medicine and Loma Linda University.