in memoriam: Dr. Stuart H.Q. Quan

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Stuart H.Q. Quan, distinguished and beloved surgeon who spent more than five decades practicing at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and generous supporter of graduate training in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, died July 4 in Westhampton, New York. It was his 98th birthday.

One of 10 children, Dr. Quan was born and raised in California. He grew up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where his father was a respected physician adored by members of the community. Dr. Quan was only 3 when his father passed away, and he knew he wanted to become a doctor at the age of 6. He attended Stanford University and was accepted to Stanford Medical School, but a scholarship opportunity drew him to Harvard Medical School, from which he graduated in 1945.

After leaving Harvard Medical School, Dr. Quan completed an internship in surgery at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital for one year, followed by one year each at Massachusetts General Hospital (pathology) and Children's Hospital (surgery) before moving to New York City in 1949 to work at Memorial Hospital. He became the attending surgeon in colorectal surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and, save for serving two years as a U.S. Air Force surgeon in France and in Libya, he worked continuously at the cancer center for over half a century. In 2000, Memorial Sloan Kettering established the Stuart H.Q. Quan Chair in Colorectal Surgery to honor Dr. Quan’s commitment to that institution.

Dr. Quan also worked at two other New York City hospitals—Doctors Hospital and Roosevelt Hospital—and he was clinical professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College for two decades.

Dr. Quan remained tightly connected and grateful to Harvard Medical School, crediting the School with influencing the rest of his life. He was one of the School’s most active alumni volunteers, and, with the help of his wife, Victoria, worked tirelessly to promote the School.

In 1986, the Stuart and Victoria Quan Fellowship Fund in Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School was established by some of Dr. Quan’s friends, who wanted to pay tribute to his surgical skill and compassion. Since then, the fund has supported the research of more than 180 predoctoral fellows, and attracted more than $1.8million in funding. The Quan Fellowship program supports approximately five new students every year, and will be a lasting legacy of Dr. Quan’s dedication to PhD training in the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.

Over the course of his lifetime, Dr. Quan earned numerous honors and awards, including the American Cancer Society’s Distinguished Service Award, which was given for his outstanding leadership in the field of cancer control, and the Scientific Award from the Chinese American Medical Society. He was also chosen to deliver the Joseph M. Mathews Oration to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

Dr. Quan served as a member of the American College of Surgeons, filling various roles expertly, including vice chairman of the Commission on Cancer. He also served as president of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, the Society of Surgical Oncology, and the New York Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

In his spare time, Dr. Quan loved to play golf. He also enjoyed art, literature, theater, opera, and traveling. In 2003, he published a memoir titled “The Tao and the Cutting Edge: Memoirs of a Chinese-American Cancer Surgeon.”

Among his memorable lighter moments at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Quan once put gin in the beaker of water a professor would sip from during speeches.

Asked what advice he would give to young physicians, Dr. Quan once said: “I urge every young physician to engage and be involved in community affairs, particularly in the political arena. This is the only way the future physician can influence his only destiny in the pursuit of his profession.”

Surviving are his wife of 36 years, Victoria, and son, David Quan, of New York.