Remembering Dr. Nate Berger

Dr. Nate Berger standing in front of books

To our School of Medicine community,

In the 41 years that Nathan Berger, MD, provided academic leadership at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, he, arguably, had the greatest impact on medicine in Cleveland of anyone—creating, evolving, nurturing, advising and championing ideas, careers and organizations. 

Now, we are remembering his legacy, as Nate passed away Saturday, June 15, at the age of 83.  

As Gary Previts, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Weatherhead School of Management, noted: “It is the end of an era. And a moment to reflect.” And to paraphrase an ancient expression, “it would have been enough."

Nate joined Case Western Reserve in 1983 to establish the university’s first hematology-oncology training program. I was his first recruit. 

I saw him become the inaugural director of what is now the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, with the support of Jim Block, CEO of UH, and Richard Behrman, then dean of the School of Medicine. Nate wrote, and was awarded, the application to earn National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center status in 1987. Soon after, he recruited Jim Willson and Sandy Markowitz, who both went on to illustrious careers at the university and beyond. He recruited a cadre of investigators, often quipping, “they are coming; they just don’t know it yet.”

Joined by Jim and Sandy, Nate submitted the first Program Project Grant in colon cancer, ultimately leading to the university’s long-standing Gastrointestinal Specialized Program of Research Excellence (GI SPORE). Sandy, the current PI of the GI SPORE and the Ingalls Professor of Cancer Genetics, remembers: “He was an extraordinary man graced by amazing and piercing intellect, indefatigable energy and commitment, enormous humanity, and remarkable candor and integrity. And he dedicated all of it to making sure that everyone around him could become successful.”

In 1995, Nate stepped in to become dean of the School of Medicine and observed the transitions of CWRU leadership from presidents Agnar Pytte to Edward Hundert, and UH CEOs Farah Walters to Tom Zenty. He relinquished the deanship reins just as CWRU and Cleveland Clinic entered into a partnership to establish Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve within the School of Medicine.

While these institutional events unfolded, Nate brought his skills as a grant writer, inventor, advisor, and mentor to generations of students, trainees, and faculty, helping countless individuals pursue academic and research-oriented careers. He was exceptionally well-regarded at UH, where his loyalties never faltered, and was recognized by UH with the creation of the Berger Service in Medicine, which is one of the Department of Medicine in-patient services.

Of Nate’s time as dean and thereafter, James Anderson, pathology and biomedical engineering professor, noted: “Nate's enthusiasm for medical research was infectious, and I always came away with new insights and perspectives. His commitment to medical education was exemplary.”

After his time as dean, Nate became the inaugural director of the Case Center for Science, Health and Society. While the center’s concept incubated in Nate’s mind, he continued to advise and mentor cancer investigators, students and those in the GI SPORE, and began a new interest in energy metabolism and cancer. Nate slowly built the center into a national juggernaut program that supports underrepresented students in medicine and research from Cleveland who, while still in high school, experience summer research.

His program preempted, by more than a decade, the now national program YES (Youth Enjoy Science) that is now supported by the NCI (his last application received a perfect 10!). Annually, more than 80 students in high school, along with middle and high school teachers, participate in a 12-week didactic and full-time research experience, receiving a stipend and producing a poster and, often, a paper. He would call each mentor to gain their annual participation. More than 90% of the students go on to college, many in STEM, and a good number enter medical school. The impact of this program will continue for decades to come.

Despite physical limitations in the past few years, Nate’s advocacy, mind and accomplishments continued to astound. As Hillard Lazarus, professor of medicine, remembers, “Nate was freely giving of his time to provide sage guidance and advice to anyone who asked for assistance; he was my go-to-guy.”

An active member of the Distinguished University Professors, Nate advised the School of Medicine and university on many topics. He combined interests with former dean Pamela Davis and Rong Xu, professor of biomedical informatics, to study the effects of COVID-19 on cancer patients; his most recent publication has just been accepted. His impact across CWRU and Cleveland is indelible—as evidenced by his receipt of the school’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2022—as is his influence on so many, including me.

Nate’s obituary is available online, and more information on Nate’s meaningful work throughout his career will be included in The Daily tomorrow. Funeral services will be held Tuesday, June 18, at 2 p.m. at Berkowitz-Kumin-Bookatz Memorial Chapel (1985 S. Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights). In lieu of flowers, the family has requested contributions to the NATHAN A. BERGER, MD SCIENTIFIC ENRICHMENT AND OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM ENDOWMENT FUND at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine (visit, choose 'Other' as the Designation and fill in the fund name, or contact Colleen Sporar at or the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

The definition of a “sage” (taken from a few sources) is someone who is a wise figure, often an older individual, who possesses insight or understanding beyond that of ordinary people. Sages serve as guardians of special knowledge, helpers, or advisers who exemplifies wisdom, virtue, and goodness.

That describes Nate to a “T.”

We are at the end of an era.


Stan Gerson's signature



Stan Gerson, MD

Dean, CWRU School of Medicine

Director, National Center for Regenerative Medicine

Students needing support at this time can always contact their Society Deans and can make same-day or next-day appointments with University Health and Counseling Services through or access immediate support—24/7 from anywhere in the United States—through TalkNow ( Faculty and staff can access counseling at any time by calling IMPACT Solutions at 1.800.227.6007.