Dr. Perry Robins Gives Back in Gratitude
Growing up in New Jersey during the Great Depression, Perry Robins never imagined that he would become a physician. “No one in my family had ever gone to college,” he says.
A self-educated uncle talked him into trying. So he hit the books, and in 1952 he graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in chemistry. Soon, the Army called and he was assigned to the pediatric clinic at Tokyo Army Hospital. He loved working with children; and his mentor there told him if he didn’t go to medical school, it would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Robins surprised everyone and did just that, earning his MD in 1961. During his internship at Orange Memorial Hospital in New Jersey, another mentor convinced him to switch his focus to dermatology. He agonized over his decision but never regretted it. He did his residency at the Bronx VA Hospital and then completed his training in the mid-1960s at NYU Medical Center.
His time at NYU changed the course of his life. A friend told him about chemosurgery, a procedure developed by Frederic Mohs, MD, at the University of Wisconsin, to treat certain skin cancers. “My friend said, ‘You love working with your hands. You would be a natural at it. Maybe you could specialize in this and become an authority on the technique.’ ” Dr. Robins went to Wisconsin and learned the procedure with Dr. Mohs.
“When I returned to NYU,” he recalls, “I met with Alfred W. Kopf, MD, then a professor of dermatology, who was very supportive of the idea of starting a chemosurgery section at NYU. He gained the support of Rudolf L. Baer, MD, the chair of the Department of Dermatology, and J.M. Converse, MD, chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery. I received a grant to kick-start the effort, and I was very excited to get started.”
Dr. Robins created the first fellowship training program in the country for chemosurgery at NYU Medical Center. Although there was some resistance at first, Dr. Robins persevered—and over the years interest in Mohs surgery (as the technique is now known) started to grow. In 1979, he founded The Skin Cancer Foundation to spread the message about sun protection and skin cancer around the globe.
“My years at NYU meant the world to me,” he says. “I enjoyed every day, and I’m so grateful to contribute to the training and promotion of Mohs surgery. I performed about 47,000 skin-cancer surgeries during my more than 40 years of practice at NYU. I taught in nearly 50 countries and in four languages. I saved lives and made a difference. NYU Medical Center paved the way. To show my appreciation, I have included funds in my will to be given to the Department of Dermatology after I'm gone (but never forgotten, I hope)!”
At 87, Dr. Robins, NYU Professor Emeritus of Dermatology, is going strong. He and his fiancée, Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf, an NYU graduate, travel extensively and love visiting their grandkids. He still works closely with The Skin Cancer Foundation and is writing his memoir.
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