Norman Koelling: Iconic Faculty Member and Honorary Doctorate

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Norman Koelling, a 79-year-old retired staff member, from the UA College of Medicine, still inhabits the anatomy laboratory on a daily basis.

Koelling has been a part of the UA community since he came to Arizona from Nebraska for graduate school in spring of 1969.

Koelling has served on staff in several different capacities including 16 years as a part of the technical staff, 17 years as a faculty member and nine years as a retiree. As a retiree he is able to continue to serve as a dissector and consultant.

“My main activity is dissecting and I’m working on the foot right now, a detailed dissection,” Koelling said. “Each year I dissect a whole body. It’s been 42 years and I’m still trying to learn that anatomy.”

After nearly 50 years of dedication, Koelling continues to have an effect on the College of Medicine – Tucson students.

Neely Anand, a third-year medical student at the Tucson campus, said Koelling contributes to what makes this medical school one-of-a-kind.

“Dr. Koelling is an exceptional teacher, a world class anatomist and an inspiration to all those who wish to practice lifelong learning. While listening to Dr. Koelling teach, it becomes obvious that you're learning from one of the greats,” Anand said.

Linda Don, assistant dean of student and educational affairs, also described Koelling as iconic and dedicated to student learning.

She has worked for the College since 1980 and said that when she began employment as a student worker, she always heard about him, even before she met him.

“The medical students all talked about him, about how great a teacher he was. He was so dedicated that he would teach impromptu anatomy review sessions in the cadaver lab at 2 a.m. Norm is really legendary,” said Don.

In fact, Koelling has helped so many students in the UA College of Medicine that in 1993 he was awarded an honorary doctorate. He was nominated by the College of Medicine and was awarded by the UA.  

“Bestowing the honorary doctorate upon Norm was a marvelous tribute to an individual who has made incredible contributions to the training of countless physicians. Anatomy is really foundational to a physician’s training,” Don said. “Norm has helped define and advance educational excellence in our medical school. There is probably not one of our alums who would not reference Norm when reminiscing about their education here.”

“That really was truly a great honor. In fact, the greatest honor I’ve ever experienced,” he said.

Koelling said he enjoys the atmosphere and genial staff at the College.

“I just really fell in love with it right from the start. It’s the only place I’ve lived and liked from day one. When I got here I just had the feeling that this is I where I belong,” he said.

“I’m always glad to see the alumni returning here. It’s gratifying to see the success that our students achieve after they leave these humble beginnings in the anatomy lab,” he said.

He explained that College of Medicine graduates, from the first years, spent the first semester of their first year in the anatomy lab.

“I look at people who are really very successful in their work and I can’t help but think that anatomy dominated their life in their first semester,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see what was the beginning for so many of our alumni.”

In his spare time, Koelling said he spends two months a year in a Hawaii.

“Since I’m not on the payroll I have the freedom to take longer vacations than the paid people get,” he said with a laugh. “I do a lot of exploring and walking.”

Koelling will continue to explore, both in Hawaii and the anatomy lab. He said he intends to continue his dissecting and feels honored that the University still allows him to do his work here.