David M Worthen MD

This web page is about my father, David M. Worthen, M.D. (1936–1988).

Table of Contents


David M Worthen MD - Biography

Parents, High School, College, & Medical School

David M Worthen MDDavid M Worthen MD

David McQuarrie Worthen was born in Provo, Utah, the fourth child of George W. Worthen, Jr. and Charlotte McQuarrie Worthen.

Charlotte M. Worthen actively served her community and church in Utah County, and proved ahead of her time, graduating from college and earning a Master's degree in Education.

George W. Worthen, Jr., born in 1886, graduated from BYU High School in 1904, Brigham Young University in 1912, and Boalt Hall law school at University of California, Berkeley in 1916. He worked as an attorney in private practice in Idaho and Utah for several years before becoming a judge in Utah County, and then an Associate Justice of the Utah Supreme Court.

David Worthen worked at a service station (we call them "gas stations" now, but back then they really were "service" stations) during high school. He served as student council president during his senior year of high school.   

He attended Brigham Young University for two years, then transferred to the University of Utah, where he graduated in 1958. He played drums in a jazz band throughout college.

He attended the University of Utah Medical School for two years before he transferred to the University of Minnesota Medical School where his maternal uncle was Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and his brother, Howard M Worthen MD PhD, was completing a pediatric nephrology fellowship.

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David M Worthen MD served in the United States Navy from 1960–1963, stationed at Oakland Naval Hospital. The Navy was experiencing an acute shortage of psychiatrists at the time. My father volunteered to complete intensive psychiatry training at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he was billeted for six months, coinciding with the Cuban missile crisis, a stressful time for all service members and their families. After the Bethesda training, he worked primarily in psychiatry back at Oakland Naval Hospital. 

Dr. David Worthen completed his ophthalmology residency and fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, during 1964–1968. He began his VA career at the Gainesville, Florida Veterans Administration Hospital in 1969, where he was Associate Professor in Ophthalmology, University School of Medicine. He earned a Master's degree in education from the University of Florida in 1974.

David M Worthen MD served as Chair of Ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego, UCSD School of Medicine from 1974–1980. He d on the medical staff at the San Diego Veterans Hospital in La Jolla, adjacent to UCSD.

ACMD for Academic Affairs, VA Central Office

In 1980, Dr. Worthen was appointed Assistant Chief Medical Director for Academic Affairs, Veterans Administration Central Office in Washington, D.C. He served in this role until 1987. 

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Dr. Worthen developed symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in late 1986 with the disease progressing rapidly and resulting in his death on 15 April 1988. 

Personal Reflections and Obituaries

Inside the Diagnosis by David M Worthen MD

JAMA logo

Worthen, David M. "Inside the Diagnosis." JAMA 258, no. 9 (4 Sep 1987): 1225. 

"The beginning was innocent. In July 1985 I received a shock from a hand-held electric drill. Within a week I'd recovered and felt fortunate to be alive.

But this minor accident heralded a permanent change in my life. I passed through the transparent curtain that separates physician from patient: I moved inside the diagnosis." 

(continued ...)

The Search for Hope in the Shadow of Death

Washington Post masthead

Worthen, David M. "The Search for Hope in the Shadow of Death." Washington Post, October 13, 1987. 

The beginning was innocent. It was a warm day in July, and I had gone for my usual 10- to 12-mile Saturday run along the river. When I returned, I went for a swim and then began doing small chores around the pool. One of those involved replacing the axle on a chaise longue. The hole in the frame needed to be enlarged, so I bought an electric drill from the workshop and plugged it into an outlet at the edge of the patio. Using my left hand, I began to drill the opening larger.

Suddenly, the drill twisted, trapping my hand when the electric cord pulled tight. That same pull stripped the wires inside the aluminum casing of the drill, exposing the wires to the drill's frame and shorting through me to the ground.

My left arm and leg immediately went into a spasm, and I called out to my son, who was standing on the other side of the pool. Seeing what happened, he ran over and jerked the cord from the outlet, and I slumped to the ground. My first sensation was of lightheadedness. I'm sure I had a brief fainting spell but did not totally lose consciousness. My left arm hung limp at my side and felt numb and heavy.

(continued ...)

Obituary by Perry S Binder MD

David McQuarrie Worthen, 1936–1988

Binder, Perry S. "David McQuarrie Worthen, 1936-1988." Archives of Ophthalmology 106, no. 6 (June 1988): 733–734.

(Note: Archives of Ophthalmology changed its name to JAMA Ophthalmology in 2013.)

Obituary - American Journal of Ophthalmology

Gaasterland, Douglas E., and Worthen, Gaye B. "David M. Worthen 1936–1988." American Journal of Ophthalmology 106, no. 3 (Sep 1988): 375–376. 

Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medical School, Annual David Worthen Memorial Lecture

Wilmer Eye Institute, Current Concepts in Ophthalmology

When my father worked at the Veterans Administration Central Office in Washington DC (1980–1987), he reserved Friday mornings to perform surgery at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

The Wilmer Eye Institute has presented the David Worthen Memorial Lecture every year since 1988.

The most recent lecture took place at the Institute's Current Concepts in Ophthalmology, 32nd Annual Baltimore Meeting, December 5–6, 2019.

As he has for several years, Neil M Bressler MDJames P. Gills Professor of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins Medical School, delivered the introduction. Dr. Bressler is editor-in-chief of JAMA Ophthalmology

Stephen D McLeod MD, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) presented the memorial lecture. Dr. McLeod is the editor-in-chief of Ophthalmology.

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