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Jun 28, 2019

Dr. Robert Kyle: On living a full life of medical (and stamp collecting) achievements

By Mayo Clinic Hematology Staff, @mayoclinichematologystaff

From a one-room country school in North Dakota to worldwide recognition as a pioneer in multiple myeloma, Mayo Clinic hematologist Robert Kyle, M.D., shares his extraordinary, full life.

Robert Kyle, M.D., was heading toward a career in forestry until "a family friend suggested he become a doctor." He kept that thought "in the back of his mind" until his brother was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis. Then it shifted a bit closer to the front of his thinking.

"His doctor impressed me, and that experience further increased my interest in medicine," Dr. Kyle tells Jame Abraham, M.D., who wrote a story on Dr. Kyle for the American Society of Clinical Oncology Post. The piece is aptly titled "Living a Full Life" and traces Dr. Kyle's full life from his early days in "a one-room country school" in his hometown of Bottineau, North Dakota, in the 1930s and '40s to his storied career as a Mayo Clinic hematologist.

After graduating from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago in 1952, Dr. Kyle began an internship at Evanston Hospital, which ultimately led him to Mayo Clinic. "A couple of very impressive members of the faculty had trained at the Mayo Clinic, so I applied there and was accepted," he tells Dr. Abraham. "The program required six months of laboratory work. One of the options was hematology, something I knew little about, so I signed up."

And he's never looked back. Dr. Kyle tells Dr. Abraham that, after a two-year stint at Tufts University, "I came back (to Mayo Clinic) in August 1961 and have been here ever since."

In those 58 years, Dr. Kyle has gone on to make quite a name for himself in the field of medicine, becoming a "multiple myeloma pioneer whose groundbreaking work," Dr. Abraham writes, "changed the practice of hematology." So much so that it earned Dr. Kyle the distinct honor of being one of only two people to receive both the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Wallace H. Coulter Award from the American Society of Hematology — "the highest honors bestowed by these two groups," according to the Post.

Find a passion outside of the clinic. I've found mine, but it's an individual choice, and sometimes you just fall into something.

Despite decades of accolades, Dr. Kyle has stayed grounded and engaged in his work, and offers a bit of advice to others who don't yet have 58 years of experience.

"You need to get away from the challenges of cancer care or you can face burnout," he says. "Find a passion outside of the clinic. I've found mine, but it's an individual choice, and sometimes you just fall into something."

Like Dr. Kyle did after landing in the hospital for 39 days after tweaking his back during a patient exam in 1965. "I had had a passing interest in stamps, so I decided to explore stamp collecting more closely," he tells Dr. Abraham. "I reviewed the multiple volumes of the Scott stamp catalogs, which have every stamp from every country in the world. I took it to another level and wrote a number of papers on blood transfusion as well as cancer and stamps." (Of course he did.)

Although he no longer sees patients, Dr. Kyle continues to contribute to "the great field of multiple myeloma, Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia, and amyloidosis." It's something, he tells the Post, he's still excited about after nearly six decades.

"The bottom line for success in medicine and research is to maintain your interest and passion about what you do," he says.

You can read more about how Dr. Kyle's gone about "living a full life" here and here.

This story originally appeared on the In the Loop blog. You can find it there.

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