Nathan "Nat" Hershey's death marked the passing of an era at the University of Pittsburgh. An intellectual force and superb teacher during decades of services at Pitt, Hershey died on April 15, 2017, in Austin, Texas, due to complications from a fall. He was 86.
Hershey played an integral role in founding the modern-day field of health law, which regulates what is now the nation’s largest industry. After earning a JD from Harvard Law School in 1953, Hershey served in the Army as well as at a New York law firm. He joined Pitt as an assistant research professor of health law in 1958, and in 1968, was named director of the health law training program. He was appointed professor of health law in the Department of Health Policy and Management in 1971.
Hershey coauthored the Hospital Law Manual, which for more than 40 years has been the definitive guide to the legal responsibilities and liabilities of health care providers. It was the first codification of health policy law and ultimately would form a critical part of what is today the LexisNexis database, the world’s largest electronic database for legal and public-records-related information.
Among his many publications were Hospital Law Manual, Human Experimentation and the Law (1976) and Hospital-Physician Relationships: Case Studies and Commentaries on Medical Staff Problems (1982). Hershey also was an elected member of the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences.
Pitt Public Health alumni who were fortunate enough to count themselves among Hershey’s many students remember him as larger than life and an outstanding teacher. “We were absolutely in awe—our teacher was the guy who created the health law field,” said Mike Evans (HPM ’80), managing principal of Revenue Cycle Solutions LLC. “He was a brilliant, great teacher.”
Becky Surma (HPM ’81), a member of Pitt Public Health’s Board of Visitors, echoed that sentiment. “All of us have teachers that we remember very fondly who make a difference in our lives. Nat was one of those,” she said. “He really challenged every one of us to think outside the box, to not be complacent, to say ‘Let’s examine this from all sides.’ He was very demanding, very challenging.”
Hershey earned a reputation not only as a valued and dedicated professor but as a force at the highest levels of faculty administration at Pitt, serving on the University Senate for 20 years. He spent the maximum three terms each as vice president and president and—never afraid to be a “thorn in the side” of University leadership when it came to faculty concerns—championed the Senate’s role as an equal partner in campus decisions.
“He was a giant on campus because he was willing to stand up for the faculty,” said Eleanor Feingold, senior associate dean. “Whatever issue was contentious on campus, Nat was out there making sure the leadership knew how the faculty felt about it.”