Edithe Levit, medical licensing leader

Posted: October 22, 2006

Edithe J. Levit, 79, a longtime Philadelphia resident and an innovator in medical education, died Wednesday in Amherst, Mass., where she had lived nearly two years.

In 1977, Dr. Levit became the first female president of the National Board of Medical Examiners, founded in 1915 to standardize the criteria for medical licenses. Upon her retirement in 1986, she was named president emeritus and a life member of the board, based in West Philadelphia.

Dr. Levit joined the board in 1961, and served as assistant director, associate director, secretary and vice president before assuming the presidency.

"Dr. Levit has earned an enviable reputation as a leader in the field of medical evaluation and as an able executive," the board chairman, physician John S. Mills, said at her appointment.

She characterized her 25 years at the National Board of Medical Examiners as "the most stimulating, creative, and rewarding time of my professional life."

Before she joined the board, Dr. Levit was director of medical education at Philadelphia General Hospital. She also was mother to two young boys, who recall her being "very, very involved" in their upbringing.

"We would see her working a booth at a school fair and we had no clue at the time of the scope of her career," David Levit said yesterday. "She was a remarkably energetic person."

In recent years, he said, one of his mother's doctors asked him: "What's it like to be the son of someone who changed the face of medicine in America?"

David and Harry Levit grew up in Center City, where their father, Samuel, was an internist with a practice in their home and a staff position at Graduate Hospital.

Dr. Levit met her husband when she attended the former Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania, where she graduated in 1951. She was also a 1946 graduate of Bucknell University.

Dr. Levit was not a science geek. "She was a cutup," her son David said. "She would sing and dance."

At Bucknell, where she received the Alumni Association "Achievement in Chosen Profession" Award in 1978, she was a cheerleader, sang in the Glee Club, and was voted May Queen. Strikingly attractive, she did not lack for dates through med school.

Dr. Levit grew up Edith Miller in Wilkes-Barre. Her sons said they did not know why she had changed the spelling of her name to Edithe; her nickname was Ede.

Her father owned and operated Miller's Jewelry Store in Wilkes-Barre. He and Dr. Levit's mother, as young people, had fled the pogroms in Eastern Europe, emigrating from an area they called "Russia-Poland."

Dr. Levit retired as National Board of Medical Examiners president to care for her husband, who developed Alzheimer's. He died in 1994. Within 10 years, his wife had developed the disease, David Levit said.

In addition to her sons, Dr. Levit is survived by a sister, Sylvia Kaufman, and two grandchildren.

She was buried Friday alongside Samuel Levit in the Kehilat Israel Cemetery in Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, where the Levit family is buried.

Contact staff writer Lea Sitton Stanley at 215-854-2796 or lstanley@phillynews.com.

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