Dr. Samuel Leitenberg Award
On June 16, 2015, the world of family medicine lost one of its best practitioners, and thousands of patients lost a beloved physician they described as irreplaceable. Dr. Samuel Leitenberg was a man of deep compassion, intellect, and integrity who was known for his brilliant diagnostic skills, his outstanding clinical care, his humanity, and his unparalleled dedication to his patients.
Dr. Leitenberg graduated from UofT’s Faculty of Medicine in 1974 and completed his residency in Family Medicine in 1976.
He then opened his own practice in midtown Toronto and practised there until illness forced him to close in May 2013. During his 37 years of practice, he was affiliated with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Northwestern Hospital (Humber River Hospital).
A rare amalgam of old-school practice and cutting-edge clinical expertise, Dr. Leitenberg worked tirelessly to ensure that his patients received the best possible care. His schedule was grueling: he usually arrived at the office in the early morning to find patients already lined up on the front porch. He never turned anyone away. He made house calls, followed up on test results and patient inquiries late into the evening, and visited patients in hospital. His generosity was well-known: he never charged for a prescription refill, a back-to-work note, or for telephone advice. And if he knew a patient was poor and sick and needed to get home quickly, he paid for their cab fare so they wouldn’t have to wait for the bus.
Although patients frequently waited several hours to see Dr. Leitenberg, they never complained. The running joke was “Bring a novel. You may even get to finish it.” They knew that, once it was their turn, they would have his undivided attention, that they were his only patient. He never allowed a computer screen to come between him and a patient. He listened, he asked questions, and he examined thoroughly.
Dr. Leitenberg was an extraordinary physician not only because of his exceptional theoretical underpinnings, but also because of his intuitive understanding of patients’ needs and his healing, hands-on approach. As one long-time patient described it, “He listened to my heart with his heart.” Dr. Leitenberg was a self-effacing man, warm and engaging, with a delightful sense of humour. A voracious reader, he was also an audiophile and a passionate collector of classical music and jazz, always searching for the perfect vinyl record.
Dr. Leitenberg was a humanitarian in the deepest sense of that word – respected and loved for his clinical expertise, compassion, humility, and unwavering commitment to patient care. The Dr. Samuel Leitenberg Award for the Humanitarian Practice of Family and Community Medicine has been established by family, friends, and colleagues to honour his life’s work and to inspire future family physicians.