Retired physician expands horizons to music, teaching

Dr. Stanley Misler

Dr. Stanley Misler, a retired nephrologist, has become a volunteer educator of a variety of subjects at Metro Academic & Classical High School.

As a well-respected physician, innovative medical school professor and award-winning researcher in the mechanisms of insulin secretion, Stanley Misler has had quite a career in the sciences. But since a 2015 retirement from his work as a nephrologist — a kidney specialist — he’s also proved to be quite a Renaissance man. 

Among other things, he teaches music to students at Metro Academic & Classical High School as part of the International Baccalaureate Program. 

“The music teacher at Metro, Marquita Reef, who is a very talented trombonist, encouraged me to study various aspects of musicology and music history and basically gave me carte blanche to participate in her courses as I felt I could help out,” said Misler, 70, a New York City native who came to St. Louis in the early 1980s to work at Jewish Hospital and Washington University and stayed after its merger with Barnes. 

His volunteer educational offerings at Metro also include physics, biology and theory of knowledge. He’s even expanding to a course in sports, exercise and health. 

Yet, the Central Reform Congregation member doesn’t just teach young students. His work at the Lifelong Learning Institute at Washington University aims to enlighten those over 50 years of age with classes in American folk and Jewish music as well as a music survey course. 

“It allowed me to broaden my education and interest in a wide variety of areas,” he said of teaching. “When you do research, in a sense, you learn more and more about less and less because you specialize. Teaching allows you to learn more and more about more and more.”

It is all a part of the educational skill set that earned him the Samuel R. Goldstein Leadership Award for his work as a professor at Washington University in 2007, a recognition the school describes as “among the highest honors that teachers in the School of Medicine can receive.” 

Why did you choose nephrology? 

There were two organs that I was really interested in: the kidney and the brain. At that time in the late 1970s, there wasn’t very much that one could do for brain disease. For kidney disease, even though you couldn’t cure it, you could definitely treat it with dialysis and with emerging renal transplantation. 

What was the focus of your research in the field?

I was interested in the links between glucose uptake by pancreatic islet cells and their secretion of insulin, in particular, their electrical links, what processes were needed to start electrical activity in the pancreatic islet cells and how the electrical activity caused the release of insulin. That’s important because there are a number of drugs that enhance insulin secretion in diabetics and the question is how they work because they would have to work in this link between glucose uptake and the release of insulin. The second thing is that, in the future, one would like to transplant islet or isletlike tissue either from other species or in genetically engineered cells. In order to do that, one would need to know that the processes of stimulation and insulin secretion are the same in these replacement cells as in normal human cells.

Why did you decide to partner with Metro High School?

When I retired in 2015, I had to decide what I wanted to do. I thought it would be nice to go back to my roots in the humanities as well as to try and give back for the career-setting education I received in high school and college, particularly at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. What I wanted to do was find a high school that was closest in its attitude toward learning and its diversity of student population that we had at Stuyvesant. It seemed that Metro High School would fit the bill the closest.

Tell me about the International Baccalaureate Program. How does it work?

Students who take specialized two-year courses, five of them in their junior and senior year, and then take exams administered from Oxford and Cambridge universities in England, can receive, in many if not most universities, a year’s college credit. These were very intense courses with the idea that students should be able to not only learn material but generate new ideas and generate volunteer activities where they could apply what they learned to help the general community.

How has Judaism affected your life?

I actually grew up in a very secular family. Most of my knowledge of Judaism comes from my interaction with Rabbi Jay Goldburg, who used to be the chief pastoral officer of Jewish Hospital.