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Dr. John Burrell Bass Jr., one of the founding faculty members at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and one of Alabama’s most prolific medical educators, passed away on Dec. 16, 2017. He was 73.
"We are grateful for the decades of dedicated service Dr. Bass provided to our school," said Dr. John Marymont, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the USA College of Medicine. "His early involvement in our medical school help set a trajectory for excellence in medical education that remains today."
Dr. Bass, noted as one of the nation’s leading tuberculosis experts, started his academic career at USA in 1974 as an assistant professor of internal medicine, rising through the academic ranks to lead the department of internal medicine as professor and chair on two separate occasions.
“Dr. Bass leaves a tremendous legacy at our medical school,” said Dr. Errol Crook, Professor and Abraham Mitchell Chair of Internal Medicine at the USA College of Medicine. “John served as a mentor for thousands of physicians and physicians-in-training. Many physicians today provide outstanding medical care with the benefit of lessons they learned from Dr. Bass.”
According to Dr. Crook, Dr. Bass was the first pulmonologist at the USA College of Medicine. He also was instrumental in establishing the first fellowship program at USA, as well as the division of pulmonology at critical care medicine.
Officially retiring in December 2009 as assistant dean for student affairs at the USA College of Medicine and Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Dr. Bass continued to follow his passion for teaching, volunteering his time to supervise medical students and residents in training. He took great pride in sharing the fact that he was the only faculty member to have lectured to each and every medical student since the medical school was established.
An extremely bright, humble and unassuming person, Dr. Bass lit up with enthusiasm when teaching medical students and resident physicians about the art and science of medicine. Outside the hospital, he was an avid reader of Walker Percy. He wrote poetry and played folk and bluegrass music using many acoustic musical instruments. The banjo was his instrument of choice.
According to Dr. Crook, being a physician educator was always a large part of Dr. Bass’ life. His teaching style was very unique, explaining concepts in a way that left everyone feeling good about themselves and confident in what they can do. “He loved music, literature and history, and he incorporated that into his teaching and lectures in a way that made them even more effective,” he said.
From 1999 to 2005, Dr. Bass served as professor and chair of the USA Department of Internal Medicine, having also served as department interim chair on two separate occasions. He also served as vice chair from 1989 to 1997, and for 25 years served as director of the USA Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care.
Throughout his career, Dr. Bass was recognized for his talents as a teacher and a mentor to physicians in training. In 2004, USA’s Housestaff Award for Best Attending was renamed the John B. Bass Jr. Award by the housestaff. He was honored with the medical school’s Best Clinical Professor Award nine times. In 2006, this award -- given by the College of Medicine’s senior class -- was renamed the John Bass Award for Teaching. Dr. Bass was honored with the Red Sash Award each year since it was established in 1990. Given by the senior class, this award recognizes medical school faculty who excel in teaching.
"Dr. Bass was teacher, mentor and good friend to me. I had such respect for him that it took years before I could call him 'John',” said Dr. William “Jet” Broughton, professor of internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine. “In addition to teaching almost every student throughout our medical school’s history, it’s also true that he had almost every one of them over to his home for dinner at some point. All will remember these special moments.”
Dr. Bass’ close connection to the medical students at USA is reflected in the number of speaking invitations he received. He delivered the medical school’s convocation address in 1999, 2001 and 2003. The rising junior classes in 2004, 2005 and 2007-2009 selected him to speak during the College’s annual White Coat Ceremony. He deeply touched every student that he taught at USA, and many students often asked him to hood them at their graduation ceremony.
In the past, the USA College of Medicine Alumni Association presented Dr. Bass with the Distinguished Service Award. He has been listed in America’s Best Doctors each year it has published.
On a regional level, Dr. Bass served as president of the Alabama Thoracic Society from 1975 to 1976, later serving as a representative to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama Interspecialty Council. From 1986 to 1989, he served on the Mobile County Medical Society board of trustees. For almost a decade, he served on the board of directors for the American Lung Association of Alabama. From 1995 to 1999, Dr. Bass served as governor of the Alabama Chapter of the American College of Physicians, also chairing the chapter’s scientific program from 1991 to 1995.
Dr. Bass was active on a national level in shaping policy for the care of tuberculosis patients and medical education. He served on numerous committees for the American College of Physicians, including vice chair of the education committee. He chaired the subcommittee of tuberculosis statements for the American Thoracic Society, also chairing the scientific assembly on microbiology, tuberculosis and pulmonary infections for the organization.
He shared his leadership and expertise in the field of tuberculosis treatment, from 1989 to 1993, serving as chair of the Advisory Committee for Elimination of Tuberculosis for the United States Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control. From 1992 to 1993, Dr. Bass served as president for the Association of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Program Directors.
In addition, Dr. Bass served on the executive committee for the National Lung Health Education Program and the Data and Safety Monitoring Board for Division of Tuberculosis Elimination at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to Dr. Broughton, who followed in Dr. Bass’ footsteps and chose a career in pulmonary medicine, Dr. Bass was beloved and famous on a global scale. “At international lung meetings, well-known researchers from all over the world greeted him by his first name,” he said. “All of them – as we did – thought of him as brilliant and a friend. We will all miss him and are grateful for the opportunity to have known him.”
During his career, Dr. Bass served on the editorial boards for the American Review of Respiratory Disease and Pulmonary Perspectives. He also served as an ad hoc reviewer for Chest, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Archives of Internal Medicine, the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the American Journal of Medical Sciences, the American Journal of Medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Southern Medical Journal and the Pulmonary Infectious Forum.
Dr. Bass was a Master in the American College of Physicians, a fellow in the American College of Chest Physicians, a member of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, the Medical Society of Mobile County and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, as well a member of the American Thoracic Society and the Alabama Thoracic Society.
Born in Abilene, Texas, Dr. Bass was a fourth-generation physician. He grew up in Gadsden, Ala., attended Auburn University and received his undergraduate degree from Tulane University in New Orleans in 1965. He also earned his medical degree at Tulane University, graduating with honors.
Dr. Bass completed his internship and residency training at the University of Alabama Hospital and Clinic in Birmingham, Ala., serving as chief medical resident. In 1974, he completed his fellowship in pulmonary medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “While completing his fellowship training at UAB, leaders who had moved to Mobile to start our medical school recognized Dr. Bass as an outstanding clinician and educator and recruited him to USA where he would complete his entire medical career,” Dr. Crook said.
Dr. Bass is survived by his wife Rebecca Fordham Bass of Mobile, Ala.; two adult children, John Burrell Bass III (Johnnie) of Memphis, TN, and Anna Fordham Bass of Houston, TX; and grandchildren Ella Rose Bass and Nathaniel Jay Bass.
Donations may be made to the John B. Bass Endowment Fund for Education in Internal Medicine, USA Office of Medical Development, 300 Alumni Circle, Mobile, AL 36688. This fund is used to enhance the mission of the USA Department of Internal Medicine and continue the legacy made by Dr. Bass during his career.
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