Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Summer/Fall 2023 issue of Forward magazine, which is published twice a year by Fox Chase Cancer Center.

By Marian Auriemma

A pioneering leader of Fox Chase Cancer Center’s clinical program from 1960 into the 1980s, surgeon Paul Grotzinger is remembered for his unwavering dedication to patient care and his innovative approach to integrating research and clinical care through meaningful relationships.

“He was a strong leader who followed his goals and his rules. When he had staff meetings he ran them like he was the captain of the ship,” said Paul Engstrom, Professor Emeritus at Fox Chase, who worked closely with Grotzinger.

But this firm approach to leadership did not take away from Grotzinger’s ability to form personal bonds with his colleagues.

“He seemed gruff and tough, but for those of us who got to work with him, he was amenable to new ideas and was really rather welcoming,” said Engstrom. “In some ways he was a father figure to me. I had moved from Minnesota and had no other family in the area. Dr. Grotzinger and his wife took my wife and I under their wing and we would do things with them socially.”

Grotzinger believed that cultivating relationships, particularly between surgeons and scientists, was paramount to progress in the field. He also took great care in developing strong relationships with his patients, who would at times wait hours just to see him in the clinic, Engstrom said.

Grotzinger’s son John, now a distinguished professor of geology and planetary sciences at Caltech, witnessed that respect firsthand when he was young.

“One of the memories that sticks out in my mind is going to the grocery store and invariably running into one of his former patients who was just so passionately appreciative of their recovery from disease. I saw him as a member of a community we were part of that I had never appreciated before. He was doing good for humanity and people acknowledged that,” John said.

A Philadelphia native, Grotzinger received his medical degree from Hahnemann Medical College in 1943. After an internship and residency in general surgery at Hahnemann, he completed residencies at Charles Wilson Memorial Hospital in Binghamton, New York, and Jeanes Hospital in Philadelphia.

He also served as an associate professor of surgery at Hahnemann from 1951 to 1966, as well as a professor of clinical surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.

Grotzinger served as Chief of Surgery at the American Oncologic Hospital from 1960 to 1974. When the hospital and the Institute for Cancer Research became Fox Chase Cancer Center in 1974, Grotzinger was instrumental in establishing the center’s clinical program and became Chief of Surgery. He also served as Medical Director at Fox Chase until 1982 and as Vice President for Medical Affairs from 1975 to 1986.

“What I remember most is someone who was very dedicated to his work. He was deeply passionate about it and absolutely loved being involved in the hospital and the center,” said John. “He would often take us into both the center and the hospital and my sister and I would do our homework in his office while he did his rounds.”

Grotzinger retired from Fox Chase in 1986 and the Paul Grotzinger and Wilbur Raab Chair in Surgical Oncology was established in 2001. The chair was created to support an outstanding leader in the field of surgical oncology who represents the highest standards of excellence. In addition, the annual Grotzinger Lectureship enriches the intellectual life of Fox Chase by bringing distinguished visitors to speak on areas of clinical interest.

“I think if there is anything my father would want to be remembered for it would be cultivating that proximity of the clinical program to the research program,” John said. “He strongly believed that’s how progress was made, and I’ve seen in my own work that he was right.”