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Physician was ‘standard-bearer’ in Las Vegas kidney medicine

Updated January 20, 2021 - 9:13 pm

Dr. Marvin J. Bernstein, a pioneering Southern Nevada kidney specialist who also mentored countless medical students over the years, has died.

Bernstein, 81, died Friday. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer almost eight years ago, said his sister, Dr. Barbara Bernstein. However, he continued seeing patients until about six weeks ago.

“He was a standard-bearer who won many top doctor honors from various magazines,” said Dr. Larry Lehrner, a colleague at Kidney Specialists of Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas nephrology practice Bernstein worked at for decades.

“He helped to bring (kidney) dialysis to the valley and (kidney) transplantation to the valley,” Lehrner said. “And he was a teacher. He taught many doctors in current practice.”

Bernstein was born in Philadelphia and lived in Chicago from the age of 4 or 5, his sister said. He did his undergraduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and received a doctor of medicine degree in 1964 from the University of Chicago School of Medicine. He did his residency at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center and a fellowship in nephrology at University of Southern California and was board-certified in internal medicine, nephrology and critical care.

From 1969 to 1972, Bernstein served in the U.S. Army Medical Group, stationed primarily in Korea but also spending time in Vietnam.

Dr. Neville Pokroy, a friend and colleague who knew Bernstein for 43 years, said he and Bernstein joined Kidney Specialists of Southern Nevada a few months apart in late 1976 and early 1977. They became friends as well as colleagues, practicing medicine in a city that then had relatively few physicians and very few kidney specialists.

“We were all newcomers to the desert and clearly we were in the process of building a practice, bringing a standard of medicine to this community,” he said. “There were just over 100 doctors in Las Vegas when we got here.”

Pokroy said Bernstein brought to Las Vegas “a wealth of knowledge which he enjoyed sharing with our residents,” earning numerous teaching awards along the way.

Lehrner, who joined the practice in 1985, said Bernstein was “very thorough. He loved his patients and was a great diagnostician, and just practiced the highest-quality medicine.”

Bernstein also was “on the leading edge of bringing us information” and would spend one week each year attending a seminar in Colorado to learn “the latest and greatest in nephrology to stay on the cutting edge,” Lehrner said.

“He never wanted to be left behind (about) what we should be doing medical-wise. I think the whole group is infused with the concept of wanting to be a leader and not a follower.”

Barbara Bernstein said that from his days as a medical student — and even before that — her brother regarded the human body as “a work of art” and illness “as though a vandal had taken a crowbar to the Mona Lisa. He had such such feeling for human physiology. He was a very human person. He cared about the whole person.

“For him, medicine was an intellectual, emotional and social endeavor. He cared about everything for his patients. He was very dogged in trying to find out what made people tick.”

Bernstein also was “exceptionally generous,” Pokroy said. When Pokroy and his wife learned in 1983 that their prospective adoptive son was born, Bernstein — who also was a private pilot — dropped everything and flew the couple to Oxnard, Calif., to pick up Pokroy’s son.

Bernstein also “had a great sense of humor,” Lehrner said. “You never knew if he was pulling your leg or not.

“He had a quip for every occasion. One of the best was, ‘If it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to wear,” Lehrner said, alluding to “how we’re all a little sloppy.”

“He had a very sharp tongue, if you will, but it was always in jest. He was well-loved by everybody in the practice.”

In addition to flying, Bernstein enjoyed outdoor pursuits that included hiking, skiing, horseback riding, scuba diving and photography, the latter focused mainly on Western landscapes, his sister said.

“He loved the West. He came from the urban East and he always felt closed in. He loved wide open spaces.”

Bernstein never married and had no children. In addition to his sister, survivors include his nephew, Daniel Paluch, and Daniel’s wife, Nathalie (Amir) Paluch.

Preceding him in death were his parents, Anita and Isadore Bernstein, and a brother, Joel Bernstein.

Graveside services will be at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Hillside Cemetery in Los Angeles. Memorial contributions may be made to Chabad of Las Vegas or the Marvin J. Bernstein M.D. Endowed Chair in Renal Diseases and Hypertension Fund at the University of Colorado Foundation.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

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