Walter R. Nickel

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Walter R. Nickel, M.D.
Born August 21, 1907
Fremont, Ohio
Died April 16, 1989
San Diego, California
Nationality American
Fields Dermatology and Dermatopathology
Alma mater Hillsdale College
University of Minnesota
Mayo Clinic
Known for Teaching Dermatopathology and helping to establish Dermatopathology as a specialty

Walter Russell "Nick" Nickel, M.D. (August 21, 1907 – April 16, 1989) was an American dermatologist who was one of the founders of the field of dermatopathology. He was a co-founder and president of four different professional societies and was the founding chairman of the Division of Dermatology at the University of California, San Diego Medical Center.



He graduated from Hillsdale College, then earned his M.D. degree from the University of Minnesota. He completed a residency in his field (which was then called Dermatology and Syphilology) as a Medical Fellow at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Upon completing his training he went directly into the Army Medical Corps, since World War II was raging. He served for several years in Vancouver, Washington, then was sent to the Philippines until his discharge in 1946. He then moved with his family to San Diego, California, where he set up a solo dermatology practice. He continued in private practice there for more than 40 years, treating more than 100,000 patients.


He was married for almost 50 years to Mona Eileen O’Neill, a nurse and nursing instructor he met at the University of Minnesota. They had five sons. His family was the first in the United States in which five brothers all achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.[1]


He loved to teach and was particularly in demand for his knowledge of dermatopathology – the microscopic diagnosis of skin biopsies. He taught residents at San Diego’s Balboa Naval Hospital for more than 40 years and at the University of Southern California for more than 20 years. His students at the Naval Hospital compiled a list of his aphorisms and sayings, which they called “Nick’s Nuggets,” as a teaching aid for residents.[2]

When the University of California, San Diego opened its new medical school and hospital in the 1960s, he was the founding chairman of the Division of Dermatology.

He was very active in national dermatology societies and was a pioneer in the field of dermatopathology. He helped to establish the field as a separate and distinct branch of both pathology and dermatology. He was a founder of four professional societies and served as president of all of them.

In the 1940s he created the Clinicopathologic Conference, a study of individual cases from both the clinical and pathological standpoint, at the annual meeting of the Pacific Dermatologic Association. He personally organized the CPC every year for decades and it remains the most popular event of the meeting to this day.[3] He was also instrumental in establishing the clinicopathologic conference in dermatology at the annual meeting of the Southern Medical Association.[4]

He and three colleagues created the Self-Assessment Test for the annual meeting of the American Society of Dermatopathology. The test is still a major feature of the society’s annual meetings.[5]

Offices held[edit]

President of the San Diego County Medical Society, 1964
Founder and president, American Society of Dermatopathology
Founder and president, Pacific Dermatologic Association
Founder and president, Sonoran Dermatology Society
Founder and president, San Diego Dermatologic Society

Recognition given[edit]

During lifetime[edit]

Practitioner of the Year, Dermatology Foundation, 1981
Physician of the Year, San Diego County Medical Society, 1983
Citizen of the Year, San Diego City Club, 1983


In 1989 when Dr. Nickel died, then-Senator Pete Wilson eulogized him on the floor of the Senate and placed his obituary in the Congressional Record.[1]

The American Society of Dermatopathology gives an annual award called the Walter R. Nickel Award for Excellence in Teaching of Dermatopathology.[6]

The Pacific Dermatologic Association named its annual clinicopathologic conference for him and a colleague, Louis H. Winer, M.D. The annual event is called the Nickel/Winer Clinicopathologic Conference, and the prize for the best case submitted is called the “Nickel/Winer Best CPC Case” award.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Congressional Record - 101st Congress (1989-1990) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)". Library of Congress. May 11, 1989. Retrieved 25 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Lopez DA, Nickel WR, Gross KG, Shewmake SW: Nick's Nuggets. J. Assoc Milit Dermatol 4(2): 44-49,1978
  3. ^ a b Pacific Dermatologic Association website
  4. ^ Zola Cooper Seminar history
  5. ^ American Society of Dermatopathology website
  6. ^ American Society of Dermatopathology website