Student Corner: In honor of Dr. Frank Kretzer

Each month, Student Corner highlights the accomplishments of Baylor’s medical, graduate and allied health students. This month, however, Student Corner is dedicated to a Baylor faculty member who perhaps has had a greater impact on students than any other – Dr. Frank Kretzer.

After 38 years at Baylor, Dr. Kretzer, professor of ophthalmology and director of anatomical sciences, has announced that he will not be returning to teach next year due to health issues. Students recently organized a celebration for Kretzer, where they reflected on what this legendary teacher and mentor has meant to them.

The poignant event was attended by students, alumni, faculty, deans and others and included brief speeches, music, a video that served as one of the lighter moments, and the presentation of a book of letters to Kretzer. Students frequently referenced one of Dr. Kretzer’s favorite phrases, “Positively Elegant,” and sold T-shirts bearing the words.  They talked about his passion, enthusiasm and mentorship, inside the classroom and out.

Here are some of the students’ reflections on Dr. Kretzer:

Matthew Burstein, a former teaching assistant to Kretzer and an M.D./Ph.D. student at Baylor who just completed his graduate degree:

I think the ‘special ingredient’ that has made Dr. Frank Kretzer so beloved over the years is his vivacity. Students at BCM quickly find that this quirky histology professor explodes with energy at every lecture. He takes the most uninspired material and then enthusiastically elevates it into theatre – shouting, pacing, and drawing parallels to architecture, history, life, and love. As first years we would often walk out of the auditorium pondering what we had just witnessed, but unsurprisingly as fourth years we can recall the content of those lectures with great clarity. Whether Frank accomplished this by design or accident is unknown, but he is unarguably the most effective lecturer at the heart of the basic sciences curriculum.

Frank’s involvement with the student body never ended with the lecture hall. I worked with him for three years as a Histology TA and over that period watched him connect with hundreds of students. He learned their faces, their names (and even nicknames), their home institutions, and often their challenges and aspirations. He offered his characteristic advice and motivation to students who needed the extra push. I was one of those students who owe him a great debt for his interest and help.”

Kevin Kotamarti, medical student, who performed Chopin’s “Nocturne No. 8 in D Flat” at the celebration for Dr. Kretzer:

I met Dr. Kretzer four years ago at the first Hillel meeting of the year. Instantly drawn to his larger than life personality and big Jewish heart, I became a regular, visiting Dr. Kretzer weekly in his Methodist Neurosensory Center office. Coming to BCM from a music and engineering background, Dr. Kretzer took a personal interest in my success and mentored me closely for the past four years. While everyone knows Frank as the passionate histology teacher, hundreds of students saw Dr. Kretzer through a different angle – as a trusted advisor, friend, or even therapist who was as much invested in seeing you succeed in your personal life as you would as a doctor. There is nothing that ever shocks or embarrasses Frank. His reputation for being a complete student advocate, his confidentiality, ability to diagnose and problem solve quickly, made his office a hotspot for students going through some sort of trouble in need of guidance and support. Also, the fact that his office was off campus and so far removed from any of the other Baylor faculty member’s offices comforted any paranoia that students had that anything you told him would be overheard by another BCM professor or dean. Students would often line up outside his office to speak to him about their most intimate troubles and would regularly keep him late into the evening. Over the past many years he has been a teacher, he says he had heard it all and then heard again. Pointing at the walls he’d say, ‘if the walls of my office could be subpoena-ed we’d all be screwed.’

From a young age Dr. Kretzer was surrounded by the arts. He was excited to hear that I was so serious about classical piano and pushed me to continue with my music in Houston. Frank generously sponsored two of my Houston piano recitals with incredible receptions including his family’s signature pink napkins and plates.”

Mark Katz, medical student Class of 2017:

Dr. Kretzer’s teaching style was certainly unique. He remained devoted to his lecture format and slides rather than using a powerpoint. In my opinion this was an extremely engaging technique and a breath of fresh air in a world of powerpoint presentations. Looking back, taking a class with Dr. Krezter was a boot camp in many ways. It all seemed so overwhelming at the moment, but I think he did it to prepare us for what was in store. He insisted that we memorize lists ‘cold’ and be able to ‘spit it back out in a millisecond.’ At a basic science level in medical school, there is quite a significant amount of memorization, and Dr. Kretzer provided the first step in learning how to tackle the arduous road ahead. Another aspect of Dr. Krezter’s style of teaching, and I won’t go into detail but those who took him know, that he wanted to get students to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and that is a tremendous tool to have in the field of medicine.

On a personal level, Dr. Kretzer has helped me adjust to medical school by giving me a family away from home. I am from Florida and really had no one here in Houston. Dr. Krezter invited me to his Temple, his house to celebrate the ‘breaking of the fast’ for Yom Kippur, and invited me to join the student Hillel group here at BCM. He also always checked up on me and asked how school was going.”

Naveen Pattisapu, medical student Class of 2017:

I had the unique opportunity to work closely with Dr. Kretzer to organize the donor honor ceremony. In addition to him sponsoring sandwiches for all the guests, organizing meetings, there was one instance that sticks in my mind dearly. After everyone had left, Dr. Kretzer walked to his car. I saw him on the way down the hall and went up to the student lounge to put away some food. I returned and he was still, slowly, making his way to his car. Simply walking to McMillan was not easy for Dr. Kretzer, yet he so joyfully engaged every student and when I saw him again in the parking lot, he eagerly displayed his unique license plate. I learned from Dr. Kretzer what a life run on pure love and joy looks like. That he didn’t work for anyone or any paycheck.”

More reflections on Dr. Kretzer can be read on the Baylor student blog, Progress Notes, and on the Facebook page dedicated to him.