By Dennis E. Park, MA, ’07-hon and Meghann Heinrich, Assistant Editor
After 50 years of service at Loma Linda University, Robert E. Soderblom ’63 was named the 2021 Alumnus of the Year at the 89th Annual Postgraduate Convention Gala.
Dr. Soderblom is a man of perpetual motion. The youngest of seven, and of those the only one to pursue education beyond high school, his life and career are a testament to his boundless drive.
When Dr. Soderblom was in seventh grade, he became a member of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church, a
decision that would profoundly impact the trajectory of his life. He was fortunate to find friendship and mentorship in Vernie and Emmord V. Pyle ’33, an SDA couple who took a keen interest in his success. Dr. and Mrs. Pyle paid for Dr. Soderblom’s education from eighth grade through medical school, opening the door to his future in medicine. Their abundant generosity instilled in him the desire to give back and benefit others when his turn came.
After his first year in medical school, Dr. Soderblom married the love of his life, Alice Lastine, a recent graduate from the New England Sanitarium and Hospital’s School of Nursing. Upon graduating from Loma Linda University (LLU) in 1963,
he served his internship at the Washington Sanitarium and Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland. Following his internship, he served a two-year stint in the Air Force at James Connally Air
Force Base in Waco, Texas. Upon fulfilling his military obligation, Dr. Soderblom returned to Loma Linda University in 1966 for a residency in internal medicine, where LLU faculty members convinced him his future was in nephrology. This led him back to Texas for a two-year fellowship in nephrology at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.
In 1971, he returned to LLU and joined the nephrology faculty. He served as chief of the nephrology division and director of dialysis services at LLU Medical Center from 1979 to 1992. He later served as the nephrology fellowship program director from 2008 to 2016. In these positions his affinity for mentorship shone as he emphasized the importance of “Thoroughness, completeness, and excellence” to students and residents on his service, which earned him recognition as the Macpherson Society Teacher of the Year in 2006. Dr. Soderblom describes his approach to medical education this way, “When I teach my students how to take care of patients, I want them to avoid only being retroactive. I try to teach them to be proactive—to see a problem that could be coming and then hopefully prevent it from ever coming.”
A globe-trotter with well over 2 million miles of air travel to his name, Dr. Soderblom enjoys combining his affinity for exploration with his commitment to mission service and has done so on countless overseas medical mission trips. Shortly after 9/11 he began instructing physicians in Kabul, Afghanistan, traveling to the war-torn city a total of nine times. He also volunteered in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and attended medical mission trips to Guyana, Brazil, Rwanda, and Belize. With encouragement from Richard H. Hart ’70, he started a dialysis unit in Trinidad, to which he traveled monthly for 10 consecutive years. The Trinidad unit saw growth from 2–80 patients in that time. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Soderblom has set foot in close to 50 countries and plans to see a few more in his retirement.
No stranger to the Alumni Association, Dr. Soderblom served as APC Governing Board chair and is widely known for coordinating the APC Friday night vespers program, the famed APC Saturday night program, and the APC banquet entertainment program. In 2001, he served as president of the Alumni Association. He has also served on the Student Affairs Council, hosted dozens of students in his home, and consistently taken part in the Association mentorship program. On many a Friday evening, he and his late wife, Alice, could be found providing food, hospitality, and fellowship to a crowd of medical students. “Family is important,” he says, “and as a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, this [Alumni Association] is part of your professional family, one nearly as important as your genetic family. I think we need to treat it as such: keeping in contact with it, advising it, supporting it, and praying for it.”
Dr. Soderblom has served in various church offices, including head elder, and is known for producing the Calimesa Community Concert Series, bringing world-renowned Christian musicians to the Inland Empire for over 30 years.
When asked what he does to relax, “Dr. Bob,” as he is affectionately known, chuckles. Even in his recently initiated retirement, he plans to continue teaching, seeing patients, organizing concerts, traveling, and mentoring medical students.
Upon reflection, Dr. Soderblom has this to say about the past 50 years at LLU, “I took an aptitude test when I was in academy, and after I completed it they said, ‘You probably shouldn’t try to
go to medical school.’ I remember thinking, ‘I don’t care what the test says, I want to study medicine.’ As I look back on the last 50 years of being here on campus, I am impressed how time and time again Providence has led me to where I am. It has been an awesome journey, particularly working with students and residents. I think this is where He wants me to be.”