Reflections and stories from the past and today.
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Joseph Bennett, P&S'48
Nearly seventy years ago I graduated P&S and began my journey in clinical medicine and doing my share to treat and care for patients. With the benefit of P&S’s comprehensive education, and the many inspiring practitioners, including Drs. Loeb, Wipple, Blakemore, Humphreys, and Atchley my life’s work was set in motion. I came to appreciate that the practice of clinical medicine was both science and art, and from the theoretical to the practical, I learned that medicine was necessarily open to further refinement and advancements.
I recall early on when I was chief resident at Lincoln Hospital (NYC) a conversation I had with Dr. Amendola, then chief of surgery at Lincoln and Roosevelt Hospital. I innocently inquired about how he spent his commuting time between hospitals, as well as, his downtime. His answer was unexpected and had a lasting impact. He emphasized that he would think about his patients and focus on how he could improve all aspects of their care whether pre or post-operative, and how surgical procedures could be bettered.
After all these years, I can confirm that stopping to consider and taking time to reflect on how to improve patient care and health care delivery has been vital in my general surgical practice. It led me to more effective treatments and methods.
Read the full essay in the PDF below.
Edward “Ted” Walworth, P&S’70
The "Tropical Medicine" elective at P&S was a terrific option for 4th year students, giving them hands-on medical experience far from the ivory tower. (I hope that the program is still going strong.) Candace and I opted for Taiwan instead of Africa and spent two months at the Mennonite hospital in Hualien. Each week we would leave the hospital for an overnight trip to the mountain villages of the aboriginal population. We saw every possible form of TB.
We did our post-grad training at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in the days before CT scans and laparoscopes. Those came along during our years in private practice in Maine, where my subspecialty became doing vascular access procedures for Candace's dialysis patients. When we retired from clinical practice in 2010, I still hankered to do some Third World surgery so I applied to Doctors Without Borders and found myself going off to Côte d'Ivoire the following summer. In 2012 I went to Haiti, in 2013 to the Central African Republic, and finally in 2014 to the DRCongo. Each of these one-month missions was with MSF; my schoolboy French finally paid off.
The joy and challenge of these postings was depending on the H&P rather than lab work and X-rays, doing the surgery I had learned during residency, and then seeing the patients get better. It often took three or four days before the distrust of a hurting patient turned to smiles of appreciation, but that made it all worthwhile.
I fear that current trainees would not trust their clinical skills in those same situations without CT's and scopes and robots, so although I am no longer going on those missions I continue to advocate for humanitarian experience at the medical school, resident, mid-career, and retirement levels. A look at real-world disease in underserved populations certainly puts our domestic experience and problems into perspective.
Al Ruenes, P&S’88
Almost immediately after arriving at P&S in the summer of 1984 I realized I was someplace quite unique.
I grew up on Long Island where I attended public school. I spent my undergraduate years in Williamsburg, Virginia on the beautiful grounds of the campus of the College of William and Mary. Trust me when I say making the adjustment to life in Washington Heights was a bit of a challenge. It was incredibly exciting, but a challenge. Certainly I had witnessed poverty growing up, but never before had I lived among it. The contrast between the University and the neighborhood in which it seemed to have been dropped was sharp. I can still see the words “Get the rich off our backs” written in graffiti on the side of the Armand Hammer Building.
Born the grandson of Spanish and Cuban immigrants I was able to communicate with the Dominican employees of the Haven, where I got coffee most mornings, in their native language. The difficult circumstances of their lives were therefore not lost on me, and grateful for the opportunity with which I had been presented I vowed that one day I would “give back”.
For nearly a decade and a half I have been doing just that. Not in Washington Heights, but in sub-Saharan Africa. There I share my skills as a urologist with surgeons from Senegal to Ethiopia. I teach in their sparsely outfitted operating rooms and provide them material support. In the outskirts of Dakar, in the village of Yeumbeul, live nearly 300,000 people without access to basic medical care. With the help of my Senegalese colleagues I am building a clinic there that will house a dentist, a nurse midwife, an internist, a pharmacy and a laboratory. Physician residences on the building’s third floor will allow medical volunteers to live comfortably while exploring both the difficulties and great rewards of providing health care to one of the world’s most underserved populations.
My ties to P&S remain strong. I have been back on its campus to share some of the highlights of my African project. My dream is to have the clinic in Senegal supported by fellow alumni who in return for the opportunity they have been given also feel the need to give something back.
Memoirs of Allen O. Whipple, 1881 – 1963
A hobby that I followed for some time was the collecting and studying of the hands of surgeons and physicians. At first I had the idea that there would be a definite difference in the shape and make-up of the hands of these two groups of practitioners. But as I collected models of some eight hands of well-known surgeons whom I had known in the American Surgical Association, and some thirty internists’ hands, I realized that there was no difference. It soon became evident that, as in all walks of life, character was often expressed in the hand. Some interesting examples of this were shown in the hands of doctors with strong or striking personalities. Harvey Cushing, who was always positive in his opinions and well aware of his importance, sent me his hand, cast in bronze, with all his fingers in full extension and with all the tendons on the back of his hand tense and showing. Rudolph Matas of New Orleans, a most modest and cultured gentleman, always known for his desire to give his friends and associates full credit for everything that they had done (which resulted in his reading papers of interminable length) sent me the cast of his hand that suggested more than anything else a frightened bird seeking its nest. The men of artistic temperament, whether surgeons or physicians, had very much the same type of hands, with slender fingers longer than average. Most of the surgeons, because of their use of surgical instruments over long periods of time, had thicker and stronger palms and inter-osseous muscles than the internists. This was to be expected. This collection of hands stood on the top of my bookshelves in my office at the Presbyterian for several years and, when I retired, I left the collection to the surgical department.