Dean History: Dr. James P. Dean- Dean - WI

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Dean Medical Group's History

A Tour Through The Decades

Dean History: Dr. James P. Dean

The Younger Brother: Dr. James P. Dean

“Jim Dean had fine hands and was a respecter of tissues. Joe Dean possessed remarkable judgment that, joined with great skill, made him a superb surgeon.  Together they were a great team.”

– Dr. William S. Middleton, Dean of the UW Medical School, 1935-55

James Phillip Dean (“Jim” or “J.P.”) was born on December 4, 1888. The eighth of nine Dean children, he was quieter and more serious than his older brother, Joe. Like Joe, he delivered newspapers as a boy. He later worked during the summers for the Gallagher Tent and Awning Company and the American Express Company to help pay for his education. Also like Joe, he excelled in athletics, competing on the University of Wisconsin track team and acting as the captain of football team, sometimes playing quarterback and end. He later served on the University of Wisconsin Athletic Board for several years.

Jim graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1911. Joe encouraged him to pursue a medical education and loaned him money to do so. Jim attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, graduated in 1913, and then interned for two years at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

In 1915, Dr. Jim returned to Madison and joined his brother as a physician and surgeon. He married Maud Lea, and they eventually had four children. Their sons, James (“J.L.”) and David, both became physicians who joined their father and uncle at the Dean Clinic.

A war hero

In 1917, Dr. Jim became a member of the Army Medical Corps in the 127th Field Hospital, 32nd Division. This was the famous “Red Arrow Division,” made up of troops from Wisconsin and Michigan. Dr. Jim served with the Field Hospital for 16 months just behind the front lines, and afterwards for six months with the American Expeditionary Forces in Cologne, Germany.

Colonel Gilbert Seaman, Surgeon General of Wisconsin, described Jim’s service during the war: “Dr. J.P. Dean was one of the best medical men attached to the 32nd Division. He entered the military service at the outbreak of the war as a Lieutenant of the Medical Corps and served under me until the Armistice. On various occasions he distinguished himself in performing remarkable operations on wounded men directly under enemy fire. He was promoted to the rank of Captain on my recommendation.” He also was recommended for the Croix de Guerre (French cross for gallant service) for his contributions during the war.

A scholar and a gentleman

After World War I, Dr. Jim returned to Madison and rejoined his brother in their medical practice. A colleague who referred many of his patients to Dr. Jim remarked, “Dr. Jim was well read and could discuss any subject. … He was a smooth and fast operator and was willing to help out any physician with any problem.”

In addition to his private practice, Dr. Jim became an associate professor in clinical medicine and surgery at the University of Wisconsin in 1924. He also became the president of the Dane County Medical Society during that same year. Like Joe, he worked closely with St. Mary’s Hospital and served as the chief of staff at St. Mary’s from 1931 to 1934. Under his leadership, a free health clinic was opened at St. Mary’s in 1933 during the Great Depression. 

In another war, but stateside

During World War II, many younger doctors were called into service, leaving Madison with a scarcity of doctors. Three of the Dean Clinic’s seven physicians joined the military. Dr. Jim, the clinic’s only remaining general surgeon, worked endless hours under considerable strain in Madison throughout the war. His colleague, Dr. William Middleton, said that the Sisters of St. Mary repeatedly told him about the “unbelievable extremities to which he [Dr. James Dean] drove himself during the war.”

Dr. Jim suffered a heart attack two years after the war ended and soon retired from his medical practice. He had developed a love for gardening, and he raised beautiful roses and various vegetables, which he often brought to Dean Clinic. At age 79, he died in St. Mary’s Hospital on July 21, 1968.

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