July 10, 2023 — During the late 1970s, in the time of disco, the creation of Microsoft and the start of “Wheel of Fortune,” three young men came to the UF College of Medicine to train in urology, not knowing the decision would shape their futures, the residency program and the lives of Gator urology residents decades down the line.
The trio — Thomas Stringer, M.D., FACS; Michael Dennis, M.D., FACS; and Michael Wehle, M.D. — cultivated strong friendships during their sometimes 110- to 120-hour workweeks in residency at UF. The path to urology began with two years of a general surgery internship and three years of a urology residency. When Stringer served as chief resident and a friend to Dennis, who in turn served the same roles for Wehle, a lifelong brotherhood was quickly established.
“It’s kind of a family tree,” said Wehle, who completed residency training in 1984. “Your closest resident when you’re doing residency is your chief resident; he’s like your big brother … and attendings are like father figures. The programs that are special are the ones where you have this feeling that you’re part of something bigger than just the urology program, where you have this kinship that always prevails.”
Now, the three alumni are faculty members in the department, sharing the lessons they’ve learned with the next generation of Gator urologists, who train at a program that ranks as the top academic urology program in Florida, according to the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings.
First to complete his urology residency training in Gainesville in 1980, Stringer pursued a uro-oncology fellowship at Wayne State University in Michigan before starting a practice in Citrus County. For the next 30 years, he worked as a managing partner of his large group practice while also teaching UF residents in cancer surgery at the VA one day each month — a role he enjoyed so much that in 2011, he left private practice to become a full-time medical director in UF’s department of urology. Later, Stringer served as interim chair of the department of urology, during which time he helped to recruit his former co-residents Dennis and Wehle to return to UF.
Dennis, who completed his residency training at UF in 1982, was in private practice on the Treasure Coast and a member of a large multispecialty clinic at the time. He answered Stringer’s call to join the UF faculty in 2015 to serve as medical director of the urology clinic.
Wehle, who had retired after spending a decade of his career in private practice in California and 26 years at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, also happily agreed to practice and teach in UF’s urology department. As if it were the ’70s again, the three friends were back together, working in the same department and hospital that trained them all those years ago — only this time, they were helping today’s cohorts of urology residents learn and grow.
“The three of us felt like we were very blessed to be thrown back into practice together where we could see each other every day,” Dennis said. “This was a magical gift to us.”
Wehle agreed, adding that working with new residents is “the icing on the cake.”
During their residency days, when the department was smaller, residents and faculty had ample possibilities to interact both inside and outside the hospital. The first to return as a full-time faculty member decades later, Stringer made it a priority to build and maintain strong connections between residents and faculty through opportunities including an annual resident-faculty golf tournament, other sports activities and dinner parties.
“Sunday night after the golf tournament, my wife cooks from scratch, and we put on a chief resident dinner in our dining room,” Stringer said. “There are three chief residents and their significant others, and sometimes it feels like Thanksgiving because we’ll sit around the table for hours after dinner is over. It’s really special.”
The three friends are moving closer to retirement, but their impact on UF’s urology residency program and the new physicians they’ve trained will carry on through the department as it continues to grow.
“For alumni to return to their home institution where they trained and give back to the next generation of urologists is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that an established urologist can provide,” said Li-Ming Su, M.D., the David A. Cofrin endowed chair of urologic oncology and chair of the department of urology. “We have been extremely fortunate to have three faculty who believed so much in their residency training at UF urology that they chose to bestow their years of clinical experience on our medical students, residents and fellows.”