A Vanderbilt University Medical Center Alumni Publication

Vanderbilt Medicine

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Making the Rounds

By Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph. D.
July 2010

Perhaps more than any other lifelong pursuit, being a physician inescapably impacts your persona—as a parent, a spouse, a family member, a friend. Being a physician reflects how you think, and how you live.

When it came time for me to address the 2010 graduates of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the thought of medical professionalism and what that means to those of us who pursue a career in medicine was on my mind.

I advised the graduates to seek balance in their lives, and gave them a warning that I hope they each took to heart: that the doctor’s duty to put patients first cannot devolve into unidimensional existence.

Abraham Flexner, whose work defined the modern concept of what a medical school should be in America, nearly 100 years ago, said this:
“The medical profession is a social organ created not for the purpose of
gratifying the inclinations or preferences of certain individuals, but as a means of promoting health, physical vigor and happiness…”

I reminded our graduates that it is not just our cures and our diagnoses that our patients seek – more often than not, it is our humanity that lifts them up and gives them comfort. Osler said, “Treat not the disease the patient has, but the patient with the disease.” This kind of medicine – what I dare say is truly personalized medicine – can really only be provided by a healthy physician with his own life in balance.

This issue of Vanderbilt Medicine contains great examples of some of the many facets of medical professionalism at Vanderbilt.

The cover story on the way medical residents are trained now, including guidance on how to balance the stringent requirements of the profession with living a life that extends outside the walls of the hospital, is an example of the way that professionalism is being redefined and encouraged.

What could be a better example of caring for patients and meeting their needs than the story of two Vanderbilt physicians who, 35 years ago, spearheaded the founding of Alive Hospice?

What could be a better example of reaching out to bring better health care to more people than the effort to bring underrepresented minorities and women into the medical profession?

One of the new leaders in thinking about professionalism in medicine is Dr. Herbert Swick, a noted author and authority on the subject. He notes: “Physicians respond to societal needs, and their behaviors reflect a social contract with the communities they serve.”

A great case-in-point of this aspect of medical professionalism is Carole Bartoo’s story about the efforts of Robert Miller, M.D., to identify a lung disease affecting Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. The actions of Dr. Miller show the medical profession at its best—solving problems and fighting for patients.

By virtue of their profession, physicians occupy a high place in society, and Vanderbilt physicians are among the elite of the profession. But only by seeking balance in our own lives can we truly reach our potential as physicians, and, more importantly, as human beings.

©2009 Vanderbilt Medical Center
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