Dr. Sorrell’s vision, leadership helped shape med center

Michael Sorrell, MD

Michael Sorrell, MD

Michael Sorrell, MD, emeritus professor in the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine and a legendary UNMC physician world-renowned for expertise in liver disease, liver transplantation and gastrointestinal disorders, died May 25. He was 88.  

Visitation will be Wednesday. More service information can be found here.

Dr. Sorrell, who retired from UNMC in December 2021, held several key leadership positions at both UNMC and the Omaha VA Hospital. He is credited with recruitment of top UNMC physicians and researchers and growth of facilities and programs to include the world’s leading liver transplant and bone marrow transplant programs. 

“Michael Sorrell’s contributions played a major role in shaping UNMC into the world-class academic science center that it is today,” said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, UNMC Chancellor. “A world-renowned physician and proud Nebraskan, his commitment to patient care, education, research and betterment of community relationships advanced UNMC onto the national and international stage. He was a visionary and his remarkable contributions will never be forgotten. We will miss him.” 

James Linder, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine, said: “Mike Sorrell’s leadership built the foundation for much of the success UNMC has had over the past 30 years. He had high standards for himself and others. The greatest compliment you could receive is when he told you ‘Good job.'”

In the early 80s, Dr. Sorrell was key in recruiting Byers “Bud” Shaw, Jr., MD, to launch a liver transplant program at UNMC, as well as James Armitage, MD, who started the bone marrow transplant program and James O’Dell, MD, professor of internal medicine, and chief of the division of rheumatology who developed breakthrough treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and trained many practicing rheumatologists in Nebraska. 

“There is perhaps no one who has had more of an impact on shaping the department of internal medicine and the UNMC College of Medicine than Dr. Sorrell,” said Bradley Britigan, MD, dean of the UNMC College of Medicine.

“He had a vision that transformed the college into the robust academic medical center it is today. But importantly, not only did he have a vision, he had the ability, energy and stamina to make it happen. We all should be thankful to him for his leadership and dedication to UNMC over more than half a century. We will miss him greatly, and we send our condolences and our great respect to his wife, Shirley, and other family members at this time.”

“Mike Sorrell was the key person in changing UNMC from a quiet little medical school that did very little research into an internationally known research institution that attracts people from all over the world,” said Dr. Armitage. “For me personally, he will always be the most important person in my career – the man who gave me a chance and believed in me.”

Dr. O’Dell considered Dr. Sorrell a mentor. 

“Every successful academician owes his or her success to their mentors,” Dr. O’Dell said. “People who come along at just the right time – and by their example and belief in their mentees – inspire them and allow them to thrive. Mike Sorrell was that person for me. I had the singular privilege of being Mike’s first chief resident – his belief in me meant everything. He truly was bigger than life and will be sorely missed.”

Rowen Zetterman, MD, also spoke on Dr. Sorrell’s impact, both on UNMC and on Dr. Zetterman’s own career.

“Dr. Michael Sorrell was a world-renowned hepatologist, an outstanding gastroenterologist, and a remarkable general internist who devoted his academic life to clinical investigation, patient care, and education,” Dr. Zetterman said. “He was the mentor that students, residents, fellows, and junior faculty needed to prepare and plan their future in medicine, and at critical junctures, was the leader UNMC and national organizations needed to ensure their growth. Above all, he loved taking care of his patients and in doing so, taught the rest of us to be sure we also provided the total care that each patient needed.”

Amy Volk, senior vice president and chief development officer of the University of Nebraska Foundation, said: “Dr. Michael F. Sorrell was a beacon of selflessness as a teacher, mentor, physician, and friend. As a benefactor, he inspired others through his principles, leadership and compassion, elevating our medical center to greatness. His legacy lives on in the countless lives he touched. We extend our deepest condolences to his family. His absence leaves a void in our hearts and a lasting impact on our community.”

After Dr. Sorrell stopped seeing patients, he continued to work three or four days a week then fully retired Dec. 31, 2021. 

His work was funded for decades with large grants from organizations including the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

Dr. Sorrell’s commitment to Nebraska and UNMC ran deep.  

The native of Syracuse, Neb., graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1955 and graduated in 1959 from the UNMC College of Medicine. He served as a general practitioner in Tecumseh, Nebraska, until 1966 then pursued advanced training in gastroenterology and hepatology then joined UNMC’s faculty in 1971.  

In the 1980s, he served as chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine and later stepped down to become medical director of the liver transplant program and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology. 

UNMC benefactors Ruth and Bill Scott were some of Dr. Sorrell’s most passionate supporters. They were impressed with Dr. Sorrell’s vision of making UNMC a first-class medical center. As lead donors of the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education, they named the center in Dr. Sorrell’s honor. They also created the Michael F. Sorrell Distinguished Chair in Internal Medicine. 

“Dr. Michael Sorrell was more than a physician; he was a visionary who reshaped UNMC into a beacon of medical excellence. And he was a good friend to Bill and me.  His commitment to advancing healthcare and education inspired us deeply. We are honored to have supported his transformative vision, and his legacy will forever shine brightly in the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education,” said Ruth Scott.

Dr. Sorrell is survived by his wife, Shirley and children, James, Thomas, John and Michael II, 17 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. 

Dr. Sorrell’s family suggests memorial tributes honoring Dr. Sorrell to the University of Nebraska Foundation.

18 comments

  1. Carmen N Sirizzotti says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. Dr. Sorrell legacy will never be forgotten.

  2. Barbara Hoover-Schultz says:

    I worked with Dr. Sorrell in the 1990s as the Administrator for the Gastroenterology & Hepatology Division. He was loved by his patients and the many fellows and faculty he mentored. I’ve thought often of him over the years and appreciated his support of my own career goals. My sincere condolences to his family. His contributions to UNMC will long be remembered and will continue to inspire future generations of physicians.

  3. Marsha Morien says:

    Dr. Sorrell believed you could be world class and do it from a base of Nebraska. I will always remember his vision that propelled UNMC forward.

  4. Jane F Potter says:

    That there is a Division of Geriatrics at UNMC is thanks to Dr. Sorrell. During his recruiting wave, as Chair of Internal Medicine, he visited me in Washington D.C. where I was in training. A few years later, when he convinced me to return to Nebraska, he would chuckle that he had recruited the youngest Division Chief in any department of medicine in the US. He was willing to take risks, saw the big picture and was open to new ideas.
    He asked me what a division of geriatrics should look like and what it would take. His ability to listen was one of his great assets, as was his devotion to his mentees. I was fortunate to be one of those mentees. His leadership and ability to ‘think big’ transformed UNMC and the lives of many.

  5. Heidi M Koenig, MD says:

    Gratitudes for all the things he taught me! And for the incredible patience to hear my perspectives on patient situations…often coming to a compromise on how we managed cases. I try to emulate his patience and diligence as I teach students, residents and fellows.

    Condolences to the family.

  6. Harold M Maurer, MD says:

    Mike was a fantastic leader that we can all follow. He would come up to my office to see me anytime with advice about the medical center. He was always on target with his comments.

  7. Harold M Maurer, MD says:

    Mike was a great physician, someone who comes along once every generation.
    He was a good friend and advisor. When he said something you listened.

  8. Dr. Sheritta Strong says:

    We only had a few patients when he was still practicing and he was a pleasure to work with. His legacy lives on through so many who trained with him and who train in the Sorrell Center. Sending condolences to the family.

  9. Richard Gilroy says:

    I am one of the many physicans that achieved their success in large part due to this great man. I started at UNMC in 1999 and left in 2006 with Mike overseeing my training is transplant hepatology with Tim, Dan, Rowan, Bud and Alan. He instill in me the importance of the patient and judged never on your brilliance but rather on your efforts.

    Mike spawned the current Medical Directors in Liver Transplantation at UNMC, Northwestern, Emory, Mayo Rochester and the current Intermountain Medical Director and who was formerly the Medical Director at the University of Kansas in the same role.

    Data and the pursuit of better answers to the most complex, or the more common problems, was always his priority. However, the most memorable Mike is how he cared and his use of humor to solve the problems in our every day lives. Shirley to you all my best wishes and to you Mike, Gods Speed

    he will be surley missed and if you have note watched this. please enjoy this youtube link.

    https://youtu.be/4kcUa1tNdNU?si=CU7-6eGpRSDTjTUm

  10. E. Silva, MD, PhD, FACS, FSSO says:

    Saddened by the awful news. We shared many patients all of whom would agree with me that not only was he a great physician but he was a kind and good man.

  11. Tom O’Connor says:

    We lost one of the all-time best. Thank you, Dr. Sorrell – you will never be forgotten.

  12. Nicholas Lorenzo, MD says:

    I have known Dr. Sorrell for decades and went to Creighton Prep with 2 of his sons both of whom were also in my UNMC Medical School class of 1988. He was a brilliant clinician, researcher, and educator but more importantly a very caring and compassionate person and physician. My condolences to his wife and entire family and may he RIP.

  13. Krysten (Kookie) Knott says:

    I was lucky enough to work in Dr Sorrell’s Liver Study Unit as a medical technologist very early in my career. He quickly became an important mentor in my life. For one clinical study I had to stand in for our study nurse and do clinics with him. He made it very entertaining. I learned first hand that the patients always come first. He did so much to make UNMC into the world class facility it is today. The world lost a great man.

  14. Ms. Amy Volk says:

    The growth of the medical center and the investment of philanthropic dollars was inspired by Dr. Sorrell. I also heard many stories of his hands on care and
    the way he diagnosed and treated patients was truly an art. I am honored to have known him and extend deepest sympathy to his #1 partner, Shirley and the family.

  15. Jim Sorrell says:

    In 1971 in the last year of his fellowship in hepatology I asked my brother where he was going to practice. I knew he had several opportunities on the east coast. He told me that he was going back to Nebraska because they had great quail hunting around Tecumseh. He also told me that his goal in medicine was to make the UNMC a first class medical school, hospital and research center. Where patient would come here from around the midwest,USA and world. My parents would be very proud of what he accomplished.

  16. Michael Chaney says:

    He moved the needle for the entire state. Impacted so many lives. Grateful to have known him. Condolences to Shirley and family.

  17. Clarence Ueda says:

    Dr. Sorrell was “The Man” at Medical Center. He influenced and impacted every part of the Campus, and pushed its boundaries in seemingly limitless directions. He leaves a legacy that few can, and will ever be able to, match.

  18. Sanjay Singh, MD says:

    Dr Sorrell was an outstanding physician leader. It is the end of an era, UNMC and Nebraska benefited a lot from his efforts.

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