October 17, 2013

Goldners driven by lifelong love of learning, sharing

In more than 50 years of clinical practice and teaching at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Fred Goldner Jr., M.D., trained countless medical students and residents who learned flawless diagnostic skills from the Vanderbilt-educated Nashville native.

Fred Goldner Jr., M.D., and his wife, Martha, are strong supporters of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. (photo by Joe Howell)

In more than 50 years of clinical practice and teaching at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Fred Goldner Jr., M.D., trained countless medical students and residents who learned flawless diagnostic skills from the Vanderbilt-educated Nashville native.

But Goldner learned from them too.

Years later, pieces of wisdom that he gained from students, colleagues, his patients and their families have been published in a book, “Practice, Practice, Practice: Slices of Life from a Career in Medicine.” The book draws from Goldner’s collection of notes that were initially written on 300 pieces of paper and stuffed in his shirt or coat pocket — kept separately from his patient files.

The proceeds from the book will benefit the Fred Goldner, M.D. Scholarship that Goldner and his wife, Martha, established with a contribution of $100,000. The Goldners’ gift is part of The Scholarship Initiative for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, an effort to increase the scholarship endowment.

“Medical education is extraordinarily dear and whatever help we can give is worthwhile. Remembering why I went into medicine in the first place makes me want to support the next generation of physicians. You have to remember that I really enjoyed my practice up until I retired and, like all work, there has to be something that keeps you going – refreshing, fulfilling, entertaining and demanding.”

Goldner, who graduated from VUSM in 1948, trained in Atlanta and Boston, served an internal medicine residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital from 1953-1955 and started the Armed Services’ first dialysis “artificial kidney” unit at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. He joined Vanderbilt’s clinical faculty in 1961.

His Vanderbilt roots run even deeper, he says. In the 1930s, as an Eagle Scout, he served as an usher at Vanderbilt football games, and since then has become a longtime Vanderbilt basketball fan.

The Goldners’ son, Arthur, who died in 1988, was a 1983 graduate of VUSM. They have three surviving children and five grandchildren, and say that supporting scholarships for Vanderbilt medical students comes from their heart.

“Since we have a child living in Costa Rica, we’d like special consideration to be given to any scholarship applicant from that country. We see the need to support physician education from many angles,” said Martha Goldner.

Goldner said his book could have focused on diagnosis and treatment available during his practice, “but what I wanted to write about is what my patients taught me. In many ways, the experiences of these 300 pieces of paper had made me hope that the people who read the book, and certainly my children, would be open to surprises every day. I realized I had the privilege of doing that, and I would hope for that privilege for everyone.”

In his book, Goldner discusses everything from home remedies taught to him by his patients to the “everlasting hurt” of losing a son and the “disturbing effect” that racism and segregation had on him in the 1950s and 1960s.

Goldner discusses segregation in hospitals and doctors’ waiting rooms and how he and his wife participated in sit-ins to end racial segregation at lunch counters in downtown Nashville in the 1970s. The integration of his waiting room was one of the first in the area.

Goldner’s observations are simple and heartfelt.

Patient Examining Physician
“A resident was participating in the care of one of my patients, who was receiving a medication by intravenous drip. The resident entered the room, silently looked at the infusion bottle and the monitor, and proceeded to make an adjustment in the speed of the flow. The patient asked if this adjustment meant that he was worse, because the physician silently frowned. This episode demonstrates that the patient is examining the physician at the same time the physician is examining the patient. Even in the room of a very sick patient, silence may eloquently convey a significant message.”

Goldner said that every day of his internal medicine practice was new and stimulating.

“Every day I’d be surprised. It could be a sad or a disappointing surprise, but it was a surprise. Mostly I was inspired by my patients, how they handled situations, how they responded to a diagnosis, what their families had to do,” he said.

“The book was sort of a delightful idea,” Martha Goldner said, “about what he learned in medicine and how he was able to serve people through medicine.”

Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of VUSM, said that the endowed scholarship support is a top focus at the School of Medicine. The Scholarship Initiative has a straightforward purpose: to grow the scholarship endowment so that every student accepted can choose Vanderbilt without concern for burdensome debt.

“For many students, a Vanderbilt medical education is completely out of reach. Vanderbilt now competes head-to-head with the nation’s most elite medical schools for the world’s finest students, but some of those students are forced to choose other schools with more robust scholarship endowments.

“We are very passionate about trying to raise more money for student scholarships, and we are very grateful to people like Fred and Martha Goldner who are so graciously giving to our Scholarship Initiative,” Balser said.

The Class of 2013 graduated with an average total educational debt level of $134,300.
The Scholarship Initiative is 60 percent of the way toward reaching its first three-year goal of $10 million. Twenty-four students have received support from scholarships established during the effort.

“A doctor gets finished with medical school and is in so much debt paying off tuition. It just seems like this is an obstruction to his or her education,” Goldner said.
“I’m also hoping that indirectly it might encourage more people to go into diagnostic medicine, which demands so much of your thought process and reaches into other fields. That would thrill me.”

For more information on Goldner’s book or on the Scholarship Initiative, please call (615) 936-0230. For more information about how gifts to scholarship impact students at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, visit www.vanderbilthealth.org/mdscholarship.