2 Minutes with ... Leon Bender M.D.

Leon Bender's Russian immigrant father wouldn't hear of him taking over his butcher shop in Chicago. Leon was going to be the first in his family to go to college.

Now 70 years old and co-director of the Urology Center, Dr. Bender has called Cedars-Sinai (and its predecessors) home for 39 years, and was Chief of Staff from 1991-93. He's known for making rounds dressed as a leprechaun on his birthday each St. Patrick's Day, joining other medical staff members on board an aircraft carrier to get ideas for increasing operating room safety, and creating out-of-the-box solutions for healthcare workers to keep their hands clean.

What you may not know is that he was offered a scholarship to play the trumpet, that his wife's college roommate was his "crib mate" as an infant, and that his actions lead to changes in state law.

You're from Chicago, why did you decide to come to Los Angeles?

I had never been west of Chicago when we went to San Francisco for a meeting and to Los Angeles to visit friends. It was February, 75- to 80-degree weather in L.A., and upon arrival back in Chicago, we were greeted by a huge snowstorm. We moved out here the day after I finished my residency.

Why specialize in urology?

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a physician. In medical school, we rotated through a great many fields. ... Of all the specialties I saw, urologists had the best endoscopes at the time. Diagnosis and treatment were rapid and there was a genuine appreciation by the patients.

If you could choose again, would you go the same route?

If I had another specialty to go into at the present time, it might be interventional radiology. This is really a young specialty that's about 15 or 20 years old. I like what they are able to do for rapid intervention and treatment.

What do you do to relax?

Spend quality time with my wife. I play tennis three times a week. I also like cross-country skiing, snorkeling and hiking. My other hobby is watching my two grandkids (ages 10 and almost 5) grow up.

You've been married to Carol for 47 years. How did you meet?

We met at a movie at the University of Illinois - "The Caine Mutiny" with Humphrey Bogart. Carol's college roommate turned out to be a life-long friend of mine, since we were in adjoining cribs at birth. Carol and I were married in my first year of medical school.

Would you share something that many people at the hospital wouldn't know about you?

Something that happened in 1975. There was a 500 percent increase planned for malpractice premiums. I caught wind of it and went up to Sacramento. The legislators told me to come back when I represented a larger group. I called a meeting at my house and 50 people showed up. There were 600 physicians at the second meeting. That led to United Physicians of California, which organized a strike to protest the increase. The legislature passed the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA). We still have the strongest medical liability laws in the country. It was certainly a pivotal point in my life because I had been in practice only for six years, and was placing my career at risk. My path in medical policy and politics had now begun.


Dr. Bender and his wife Carol sit next to each other on the flight to the USS Nimitz.