Dr. Walter Guralnick has never been content to rest on his laurels. This does not mean there haven’t been opportunities. The 100-year old resident of Youville House was an early pioneer in bringing affordable health insurance to the masses. He worked with Blue Cross Blue Shield to expand coverage for oral procedures and served for years on the BCBS Board of Directors. He introduced a dual degree curriculum in medicine and oral surgery that is now commonly practiced in oral and maxillofacial surgery training programs. He is a World War II veteran, the former chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Mass General Hospital, a recipient of the Harvard Medal and has been recognized with countless other distinctions. Since 1996, there has been an endowed professorship named for him at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
What is most notable about Dr. Guralnick, however, is that he is still working and has no plans to retire. In acknowledgment of his 65th anniversary with MGH and remarkable career stamina, Dr. Guralnick recently became the subject of a segment on Channel 5 news and a front page article in the “Metro” section of the Boston Globe. As he told Globe reporter Billy Baker, “I haven’t retired because my interests are the same now as they were 50 years ago. I’ve always said that if you’re going to work, you should seek to find something that you enjoy doing, and hopefully at the same time you can do some good for people.”
Health care has been more than a career for Dr. Guralnick; it has formed the basis of a remarkably rich life with its share of unexpected surprises. Many Youville residents and staff were interested in speaking with Dr. Guralnick when the Globe article came out. He was happy to share what he views as one of the most important eras in his career: his sabbatical in China.
In 1979, a few years after President Nixon restored relations with China, Dr. Guralnick and his wife decided to spend 6 months in that country. This trip would mark the beginning of a long series of overseas initiatives and lasting friendships. Work went on as usual, with Dr. Guralnick working in various Chinese medical schools and hospitals. Along with other colleagues, he helped establish a preventive dental health program in China. His wife Betty, a Radcliff graduate, introduced students and staff to social work practices in the United States.
The Guralnicks would return to China every year, making nearly two dozen trips in total. Their work in the cities of Chengdu, Xian and Shanghai became among their most important ongoing initiatives. Back in the United States, they had memorable gatherings for their growing number of Chinese friends. The connections made abroad helped pave the way for Chinese doctors to travel to the United States in turn, many of whom completed fellowships at MGH.
Many people hope to expand their horizons after retirement – they dream of traveling, learning something new, exploring interests. Dr. Guralnick’s intense focus on work led to all of these opportunities. He is far from being burned out, or even considering retirement. The remarkable centenarian may himself be a case study in the value of resisting complacency, and always looking ahead.