ARTICLE 32 HEARING TRANSCRIPTS
August 11, 1970: Dr. Frederick Herter, MD
(The hearing reconvened at 0956 hours, 11 August 1970.)
COL ROCK: This hearing will come to order. Let the record reflect that all parties that were present at the recess are currently in the hearing room.
MR. SEGAL: Sir, at this time, we are attempting to complete the telephone arrangements to call Dr. Frederick Herter, who is our next witness. We're supposed to have a conference call ready in a moment.
(A telephone conference was placed to Dr. Frederick Herter who testified as follows.)
CPT DOUTHAT: Doctor Herter, the next voice will be Colonel Rock who is presiding officer, or investigating officer and he will swear you in these proceedings and instruct you as follows.
COL ROCK: Doctor Herter, this is Colonel Rock. Would you please raise your right hand?
COL ROCK: And please speak loudly so that we can hear you here in the hearing room.
(Doctor Herter was sworn.)
COL ROCK: The next voice that you will hear will be that of counsel for the accused, Mr. Segal.
MR. SEGAL: Doctor, can you hear me?
WITNESS: Yes, I can hear you.
Questions by MR. SEGAL:
Q Would you please state your full name and your address for the record of this case?
A Frederick Herter, H-e-r-t-e-r, 155 Shauman Avenue, New York.
Q And what is your profession, sir?
A I'm a physician.
Q And what is -- what position do you presently hold?
A I'm a professor of surgery at Columbia University, acting chairman of the Department of Surgery, and Director of the Surgical Services at Presbyterian Hospital.
Q When you say that you are professor of surgery, what does that position involve?
A It's essentially an academic title in the University. There are several ranks for professors. This is full professorship.
Q Now what connection do you have with medical students who are residents at the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital?
A Well, at the present time the Chairman of the Department. I'm in charge of some 40 members of the surgical house staff. These are interns and residents in training.
Q Would you state just simply for the record what are your professional qualifications? What is your education and your licensing background?
A Yes, I -- I went to Harvard College as an undergraduate. From there to Harvard Medical School from whence I graduated in 1944. I took a surgical internship at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, interrupted by two years in the Army Medical Corps, and returned, finished my internship, assistant residency and residency, and I got through my formal training in 1953. I have been on the surgical staff at -- as the attending surgeon since that time.
Q Now in your position in connection with Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, are you also required to be board certified in any particular areas?
A Yes, everybody on our attending staff is board certified in general surgery, and some are also board certified by -- in thoracic surgery, or in plastic surgery.
Q What are your particular certifications, sir?
A General surgery.
Q Are you the author of any articles or materials in the field of general surgery?
A Yes, I've written roughly 40 surgical articles, which appeared in surgical literature.
Q Now did you have occasion to become in contact with Jeffrey R. MacDonald as an intern at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital?
A Yes, I did.
Q When were you in contact? When was Captain, or rather Doctor MacDonald at Columbia Presbyterian?
A Well, he got through his internship a few years ago, and all of the members of the surgical attending staff, of course, have contact, all of the members of the house staff. They work together on a day by day basis.
Q At any time are you called upon or required to evaluate the work of the interns?
A Yes, There is a very important evaluation of the interns that occurs approximately four months after they come onto service, and again at the end of their internship here. But we have to make certain choices in the fall of the year following the beginning of the internship, which occurs in July.
Q Would you hold on one second? All right you can resume, there was some interference on the line. Again, do the best you can to speak into the phone. We are having some difficulty with the amplification at this end, but would you resume in describing the evaluation of the interns?
A Well, in October or November of each year, generally speaking, we pick four men from out of our twelve-man internship group, to be appointed at this residence to start the following July. This is the practice four months after they arrive on the service, and we have to do it this far ahead of time so that those men who are not chosen to continue in our program can obtain good positions in other hospital training programs, so that at that time, in the late fall, we have to evaluate the entire internship group. We generally make our choices for the following year at that time, and those men who are not going on in general surgery; we try and help place them in other training programs.
Q Doctor Herter, may I ask how many interns are accepted for Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and what, if any, selection process is applied to the picking of the interns?
A We take twelve interns each year. They serve from July 1 of one year to June 30th of the following year. Now this is out of a group of applicants that number somewhere between 150 and 200 names.
Q Bear with me just a second, Doctor Herter. Doctor Herter?
Q Now did you have occasion to evaluate the performance of Doctor Jeffrey R. MacDonald while he was an intern at Columbia Presbyterian?
A Yes, I did.
Q And what was the evaluation that was made of Captain MacDonald?
A Well, Doctor MacDonald was considered by all the members of the attending staff who evaluated him, to be a very straight intern. I cannot remember in detail enough to know where we rated him in terms of one through twelve, but he was within the top half of the list. He was considered to have done an excellent job in performance of his various orders and we felt that he was qualified to go on for further residency training in a particular field that he desired with our full recommendation.
Q Doctor Herter, what are the characteristics or qualities that were evaluated in arriving at this view of each of the interns? And again addressing yourself, if you can, to whatever your records would indicate or your information indicates about Captain MacDonald.
A Right. Well, surgery, in particular the years of training in surgery, is fairly stressful occupation. A man may come into the internship with a fine medical school record, a fine academic record, but we may find after a short period that under the stresses and strains of surgical work, and particularly the long hours that are involved, he may not be -- we can tell generally, after a short period of time, whether a person has the stamina and equilibrium to act intelligently and rationally under various circumstances. By that a man who can make a decision at four o'clock in the morning with a clear head and come to a reasonable conclusion. Now this I -- this is the characteristic which I suppose is most important in a surgeon. Obviously, a man would not be picked for an intern who does not have intellectual qualifications. All these men of course, had fine records at the school, but it's really the quality of being able to stand up under stress, make decisions, and follow through on them, which guides us in our decisions in evaluating.
Q And in regard to Captain MacDonald, would you indicate that the -- that he was found to either have or the lack of those qualifications? That you described as necessary and are desirable for a qualified intern to be further recommended.
A Oh, absolutely. I think Doctor MacDonald fulfilled all of the criteria with a -- flying colors.
MR. SEGAL: Thank you, doctor; I think at this time the counsel for the government may have some questions for you. Would you please bear with us?
Questions by CPT SOMERS:
Q Doctor, this is Captain Somers.
A Yes, sir.
Q Can you hear me?
A Yes, I can hear you.
Q I gather from what you've been telling us that a man, who has the requisite qualifications, must have some considerable physical stamina. Is that correct?
A This is correct, yes. I think during the internship here, a man, while he's on duty, which is every other night, averages about three hours of sleep, so it does require some physical endurance.
Q And Captain MacDonald, I gather, did have this stamina?
A Yes, I certainly recall that he did.
CPT SOMERS: Excuse me just a moment, please.
Q As I understand it, doctor, you are also looking for the quality of being under control, being calm, cool and clear-headed. Is this correct?
A This is correct.
Q And Doctor MacDonald had those qualifications. Is that correct?
A Yes, this is correct. I think it is fair to say that if Doctor MacDonald had desired to go on to general surgery, he would have been given very close attention from the point of view of the evaluating group. I cannot tell you, because I cannot recall what the details of his status with regard to the other interns in absolute clarity, but I think he would have been listed high and had he gone on in general surgery, he probably would have continued his training with us at Presbyterian.
CPT SOMERS: Thank you, doctor. I have no further questions. I am going to turn you back over to Colonel Rock.
COL ROCK: Doctor Herter, this is Colonel Rock. Sir, you are requested not to discuss your testimony with any person other than counsel for the government or counsel for the accused.
COL ROCK: Fine, thank you very much.
WITNESS: You are very welcome.
CPT DOUTHAT: Doctor Herter, this is Captain Douthat. I want to thank you very much for your testimony.