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Gallant Practitioner

Kindness defined his medical career

As a physician, researcher, and educator, Victor Frankel ’46 has had a storied career. 

He helped revolutionize the field of orthopedic medicine and was named a pillar of the profession by the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA). He published essential texts and traveled extensively to lecture on his findings, bringing back innovative techniques from around the world. 

He also trained several generations of leading minds in his specialty, biomechanics, and built a lasting legacy of education and mentorship. 

And in what is perhaps a first for a Swarthmorean, he was even knighted by King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. 

Yet all along, Frankel has kept his trademark warmth, humility, and intellectual curiosity.

“I’m just a country boy,” he says. 

Frankel’s roots in Arden, Del., shaped both his character and his career. As a boy, his mother’s cousins, physicians in the Philadelphia area, inspired his interest in medicine. 

“I thought if I could only get to medical school, I could join their practice,” he says. 

Swarthmore brought new opportunities, and he calls his time at the College the basis of his career. 

“Swarthmore was hard, but I learned a lot,” he reflects, noting how the experience helped nurture both an intellectual passion and a growing worldliness.  

After attending medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and serving as an Army physician, Frankel conducted research at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. There, he earned a doctorate in orthopedic biomechanics and developed a lasting love for the country and its people. 

When he returned to the U.S., he established the country’s first orthopedic biomechanical laboratory at what is now New York University’s Langone Orthopedic Hospital.  

In 1991–92, Frankel’s leadership and innovation in orthopedic medicine was honored with Sweden’s Royal Order of the Polar Star, an achievement he also threads back to his local roots: Frankel was born in New Sweden, Del., a former Swedish colony. He still recalls a 1938 celebration held in honor of the town’s 300th anniversary, which included a royal visit from the King of Sweden.

Little did he know then that the day’s pomp and circumstance would have enduring meaning in his life. 

“I think I’m the first person [from New Sweden] knighted by a Swedish king since 1638,” he chuckles.

Through it all, he has maintained a kindness and sense of humor that carried forth not only into his bedside manner, but also into in his generosity as an educator and mentor. Early in his career, a medical chief emphasized the importance of helping advance the next generation of physicians. It was a lesson Frankel took to heart. 

“He said to me, ‘Victor, the most important thing you can do is train your successor,’” he recalls. And he did, many times over. “What you need to do is push everybody — no, not push them, give them opportunities.”

Even today, he continues to connect with Swarthmore students, speaking enthusiastically of their plans and projects. “I’m interested in people,” he says. And it shows.