Floyd Bloom: Building a bridge to the future  pg. 2

Born in 1936 in Minneapolis, Bloom has vivid early memories of sitting by the family radio listening to reports about World War II. His father Jack, who was a pharmacist, had dreamed of going to medical school, but had been turned down because of the pervasive quota system that thwarted many Jewish applicants.

His son would not have to suffer the same indignity. Following a younger sibling who told him, “Jewish boys can get a break in Texas,” Jack Bloom sold his Midwestern pharmacies and, in 1945, moved his family to Dallas.

Bloom graduated from high school in Texas, attended Southern Methodist University, where he majored in German literature, and, at his father’s directive, applied to medical school at Washington University Medical School in St. Louis. He had been a brilliant student in a variety of subjects – except for calculus. Calculus proved to be his nemesis in medical school as well, when he needed it to understand physiology.

Bloom (second from left in the first row) with colleagues in the Laboratory of Neuropharmacology at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C., in 1974.
Courtesy of Floyd Bloom
Despite his less-than-stellar performance in that subject, his physiology professor, Gordon Schoepfle, was sure that Bloom had the capacity to master the course if he could study it in context. Schoepfle invited the medical student to spend a summer in his lab on a student fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, where he could learn physiology through bench research.

Doctors were still being drafted in the early 1960s in response to Cold War tensions, and Bloom decided to meet his service requirements by working at the NIH. After traveling to Bethesda for the interviews, however, he was told his research position had fallen through at the last minute. A jobless medical resident, he was suddenly a prime target for the draft and pictured himself being shipped off to Germany or serving on a Coast Guard cutter off the coast of Alaska.

Thrill of discovery

Frantically, he called the director of the research associates program, Dr. Robert Berliner (whom he would later know as the Dean of Yale Medical School), and begged him to find him another spot in their program. At Berliner’s suggestion, Bloom interviewed at one of the oldest government-run psychiatric hospitals in the country, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in southeast Washington, D.C. He was accepted into the lab of Dr. Giancarlo Salmoiraghi, but he had no idea what he was being hired to do.

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