J. Phillip Pennell, M.D., 1939-2007

J Phillip PennellTitle/Position: Founder, Health and Human Values Programs

J. Phillip Pennell, 68, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Medical Director at the University of Miami Dialysis unit, died September 27th, 2007, at home in Coconut Grove. 
Dr. Pennell, while caring for dialysis patients, was a medical educator and researcher. Teaching was his passion and medical ethics his focus.

He was a leader in introducing ethics into medical school curricula in Florida.  He created and directed UM Medical School’s former Health and Human Values Program. He taught students and residents in psychiatry, psychology and other disciplines engaging critical thinking skills and a truly human 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.”

Passionate about people’s rights, 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.

The culmination of many years of research collected while caring for dialysis patients resulted in his paper, “The utility of non-HDL in managing dyslipidemia of Stage 5 chronic kidney disease”, published in Clinical Nephrology in May of last year.

Phil was an avid sports fan and athlete himself. He started playing basketball at the age of four with a hoop on the back of his Mom’s kitchen door.  He took his hometown high school team the Kokomo, “Wildcats” to the state championships. He also played Varsity ball at Carleton where he met his wife to be. He grew to love tennis like basketball and played every weekend.

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

His wish was to retire to the mountains of North Carolina and complete his many unfinished papers and projects. That dream was taken from him, but the seeds he sowed in so many lives through his teaching will bear fruit wherever his students go.

He was diagnosed with a glioblastoma and died at home surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Mary Pennell; his daughters, Pauline Pennell of Wichita, Kansas, and Pamela Pennell Kelly; grandchildren, Evelyn and Addis Kelly of Coconut Grove, Florida; and his sister, Sally Heaton of Klamath Falls, Oregon.He requested his body be given to science; no memorial service will be held.

In lieu of flowers please make a memorial contribution to: UM Sylvester Cancer Center, P.O. Box 016960 “M867,” Miami, FL 33101; Vitas (Hospice) Charitable Fund, 16800 NW 2nd Avenue, Suite 400, North Miami Beach, FL 33169; or a charity of choice.