Steven Galetta

Track has always been an underlying theme in Steve Galetta’s relationship with Penn.

“I first learned about Penn when the Assistant Track Coach Irv Mondschein contacted me,” remembers Galetta. “I was already familiar with Penn from the Penn Relays, although I was not fully aware that Penn had such an outstanding academic reputation.” When he visited, “Coach Mondschein took me out for an Italian dinner at Pagano’s and he made me feel right at home. The guys on the track team were normal people and I appreciated their enthusiasm for the school and coaches.”

Sprint football was also on his agenda. A four-time letterwinner he was captain his senior year and his career rushing yardage was a Penn record for 21 years. Ask him which sport he prefers and he diplomatically says “I love them both.” With football “you’re part of a team. It’s highly orchestrated.” Track, however, is “more social, with down time between races. I met wonderful friends.”

On the track Galetta had even more success. An All-Ivy and All-IC4A selection, his 4x100m team made the NCAA finals in 1977, though he says his teammates – Michael Seitz, James Brown, and Ernie Robertson “really had talent. I was along for the ride.” Galetta remembers “we were only team from the East to make the finals, and we going up against the traditional sprint powerhouses – USC, UCLA and Auburn.”

His athletic schedule didn’t preclude any academic opportunities. Coach Jim Tuppeny told them “there are three things that are important at Penn – athletics, academics and your social life. You can only be good at two of the three. Guess which one of these three will suffer while you are a member of this team,” he remembers. As a practical matter “the coaches understood that I might be late for practice for a particular lab or course.”

This attitude allowed Galetta to do medical research while still an undergraduate. “Penn is a wonderful place for someone interested in a medical career,” he notes. “The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is located right on campus and there are numerous opportunities to get involved in research. I worked in the Urology Lab under the direction of Dr. Alan Wein. I was a low-level research assistant, but I got to learn a bit about the practice of medicine along with some basic research techniques.” He was able to accomplish all this “by being organized. I had a fairly set schedule. I realized that I would have to study after practice and that my social life couldn’t always be a top priority.”

Named the Class of 1915 Award his senior year as the University’s outstanding male athlete, Galetta was accepted to both Penn and Cornell’s medical schools, but chose Cornell. “I needed to focus on med school,” he explains. Perhaps his social life didn’t suffer as much as Coach Tuppeny intended.

Returning to Penn for a neurology residency after earning his M.D. degree, Galetta has never left, except for training in neuro-opthamology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. He is currently a Van Meter Professor of Neurology and Director of Neuro-Ophthalmology as well as Director of Neurology Training. He’s won a number of teaching awards, including both the American Neurological Association Teacher of the Year and the Association of American Medical Colleges Robert Glaser Distinguished Teacher Award in 2004. He won the Durhring Award for Outstanding Clinical Specialist in 1998 and the Dripps Award for Outstanding Medical Educator in 2002.

He’s also renewed his relationship with Penn track. By his estimate he’s run in “more than 20 Penn Relays.” For a number of years he’d team up with three med students and residents to form the “Running Docs” a 4x100m team. Some years he’d be on two teams, necessitating consecutive heats. “It was a near-death experience,” he says. “There’s so much effort in getting started” in a heat. He’s currently taking a break to help his teenage sons with their sports, but thinks “maybe I’ll get back in the track again,” when they go to college.

What he’s learned on the football field and track also guides his medical career. “Medicine requires team work,” he explains. “The team can be as small as you and the patient, but often the circumstances require a larger team effort.” They both “require enormous dedication, motivation and the need to perform under pressure.”

Recently named Admissions Committee Chair for Penn Medical School, Galetta has a special appreciation for athlete applicants. “Athletes have a quantifiable ability to perform under pressure,” he says. Even so, he’s amazed at the “jaw-dropping quality of applicants. I would be a marginal candidate at this time,” he claims, laughing.

A Penn lifer, Galetta’s feelings about the place are pretty simple. “Penn is a place that can allow you to exceed your own expectations,” he says. “I love Penn and I bleed red and blue.”


This story was written by Stephen Eschenbach in 2007 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.