Kaiser Permanente physician Monte Gregg Steadman (1921-2010) enjoyed a prestigious career as an outstanding head and neck surgeon and teacher. Throughout this conventional career, he also struggled against conformity, militarism, and prejudice in many ways, and made his mark as a committed humanitarian as well.
For a former military physician and athletic male who had played football at UCLA, perhaps being tackled by a potentially fatal disease revealed his bravery best. In 1966, Steadman was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a radical mastectomy, which he wryly noted “Ended his chance to be a world-class handball champion.”
This 2005 poster featuring Dr. Steadman was a stunning public education message about the disease few men think will affect them; that warning still rings true.
Confronting and overcoming obstacles
In 1954, when he was appointed chief of Head and Neck Surgery at the new Kaiser Permanente hospital on Geary Street in San Francisco, he was denied membership in the SF County Medical Society because he worked at KP. “It was felt at the time that we were a threat to private practice,” he later said.
In 1969, he met and mentored a young plastic surgery resident at Stanford Medical Center, Dr. Robert Pearl, now the executive director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group. TPMG’s 8,000 physicians serve KP in all of Northern California. Steadman retired from Kaiser in 1982.
An item in the December, 1959 staff newsletter KP Reporter described another way in which he defied conventional norms:
Drs. Monte Steadman and John E. Hodgekiss came down from San Francisco to help us out in ENT clinic. Dr. Steadman’s method of transportation fascinated us to no end as he arrived on his dashing motorcycle equipped with crash helmet and suede jacket. Behind him rode his briefcase and necessary charts, neatly tied to the seat with nylon cord. Ah, how wonderful it is to be young!
Dr. Steadman was equally outspoken about social injustice. In 1962 his strong anti-war beliefs drew him and two other men to sail into an atomic test zone off Johnson Island in the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to stop the test and draw international attention to nuclear disarmament.
The following year a KP Reporter article described further his commitment to social change:
Dr. Monte Steadman, of ENT at Geary, appeared on TV station KQED recently. As a speaker on the program “Dissent,” he urged society to reject force and violence whose use we freely condemn in our enemies. He praised the Negroes of the South who, with their Northern supporters, are resisting injustice without retaliating in kind for the mindless violence done to them.
We salute the fearless physicians like Dr. Steadman who have contributed to the mission of Kaiser Permanente, which exists to “provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.”
Kaiser Permanente continues to be a leader in tackling breast cancer, especially early detection. In 2012 the National Committee for Quality Assurance reported that KP breast cancer screening rates for women were the best among health care providers in all the regions KP served.
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