J. Phillip Pennell, MD, 1939-2007

Founder, UM Miller School of Medicine Health and Human Values Program

J Phillip PennellJ. Phillip Pennell, 68, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Medical Director at the University of Miami dialysis unit, died September 27, 2007, at home in Coconut Grove. 

Dr. Pennell, while caring for dialysis patients, was a medical educator and researcher. He enjoyed teaching, and focused on bioethics.

He was a leader in introducing ethics into medical school curricula in Florida.  He founded and directed UM's former Health and Human Values Program. He taught students and residents in psychiatry, psychology and other disciplines emphasizing critical thinking skills and a compassionate approach to patient care. In addition to his primary appointment in the Department of Medicine, Dr. Pennell held a joint appointment in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences.

He established “ethics rounds” for UM’s third-year medical students where they presented and discussed cases that raised interesting and often difficult ethical challenges.

“Phil held medical students to the same standards he set for himself,” said Judith Benkendorf, American College of Medical Genetics Foundation and a former colleague of Dr. Pennell’s. “He was demanding, but no one cared more about students and the kinds of doctors they would become than he did. He took as much pride in their successes as he did in his own. I remember the twinkle in his eye and the way his smile turned up just so when he taught what he really loved and the dry sense of humor that left the students puzzled.”

He chaired the Ethics Committee for the Health Council of South Florida for nearly a decade.

His commitment to medical education was shaped by Carleton College, the University of Rochester Medical School, a residency in nephrology at the University of Pittsburgh during the early days of dialysis followed by a fellowship at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. He served as a Lieutenant Commander at the Naval Hospital in New Orleans during the Vietnam War until joining the Nephrology Division at Stanford University. He helped to design the new dialysis unit there, emphasizing home dialysis, teaching families to help care for and dialyze their own family members at home.

Dr. Pennell was an avid sports fan and athlete. He started playing basketball at the age of four with a hoop on the back of the kitchen door.  He took his hometown high school team, the Kokomo “Wildcats,” to the state championship. He also played varsity ball at Carleton where he met Mary, his wife to be. They were married 45 years.

Dr. Pennell relished a lively conversation over good food and wine. He enjoyed a house full of family and friends, a kind of salon.

He was diagnosed with a glioblastoma and died at home surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife; daughters Pauline Pennell of Wichita, Kansas, and Pamela Pennell Kelly; grandchildren, Evelyn and Addis Kelly of Coconut Grove; and his sister, Sally Heaton of Klamath Falls, Oregon. He requested his body be given to science; no memorial service was held.