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Watkins lecturer reminds that medicine is all about caring

Oct. 17, 2013, 10:27 AM

Talmadge King Jr., M.D., center, delivered this year’s Levi Watkins Jr. Lecture. Here he’s joined by, from left, Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., André Churchwell, M.D., George Hill, Ph.D., and Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D. (photo by Anne Rayner)

It’s all about the patient.

That’s the message Talmadge King Jr., M.D., the Julius R. Krevans Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), shared with students, physicians, administrators and researchers during Wednesday’s Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., Lecture on Diversity in Medical Education.

King, who has spent his career studying interstitial lung diseases (ILD) like idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, connective tissue disease and other rare diffuse lung disorders, said his focus has always been the patient.

During his address, “A Career in Academic Medicine: a Personal Journey,” he spoke about a patient he treated early in his career. Her case, he said, will resonate with him forever.

“Lupus is the reason I got interested in ILD,” King said. “This patient went from healthy to dead in three days. It turns out she had Lupus and the first manifestation of the disease was an acute lung injury. It had a huge impact on me. I can remember how palpable it was to be at her bedside trying to explain to her kids and her husband why mom was dying, and I wanted to find an answer.

“I try to always remember to put the patient at the center of everything. There is a saying: Always keep the main thing, the main thing. For us, the main thing is the patient. Everything we do is about the patient.”

As a physician-scientist, King’s journey has been filled with frustrations, failures and tremendous challenges.

He urged the audience to look for mentors and other resources for encouragement to offset the negative factors associated with the job, including job challenges and research funding issues.

VUSM student Tiara Aldridge, left, is presented with this year’s School of Medicine Award by Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., and last year’s winner, Carla Valenzuela. (photo by Anne Rayner)

He quickly followed with the many rewarding attributes.

“We are highly motivated, hard working, efficient, excellent problem solvers and like to be challenged by difficult problems,” said King. “But the thing that distinguishes us is our ability to succeed, going from failure to failure, with all of this enthusiasm.

“At the end of the day, you have to believe that you are going to make a difference,” he stressed.
As chair of Medicine at UCSF, he said he often has to lean on what he calls one of his crutches — a little book of anecdotes.

He shared two entries: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” from Maya Angelou; and “People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help them anyway,” from Keith Kent’s “Anyway, the Paradoxical Commandments.”

“These are the things that get the compass back to center for me,” he told the audience. “This is why I am here. It’s about the other person, not me. A lot of people forget that.”

King is a member of numerous organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences and the Association of American Physicians. He won the 2007 Trudeau Medal, the highest honor of the American Lung Association and American Thoracic Society.

Prior to the start of the lecture, several awards were presented, including the Faculty Award, given to George C. Hill, Ph.D., for fostering opportunities for underrepresented minorities. The student awards went to fourth-year VUSM student Tiara Aldridge  and graduate student Akosua Badu Nkansah for their work in fostering a more diverse learning environment. The House Officer award was given to Sade Arinze, M.D.

The lecture honors Levi Watkins Jr., M.D., the first African-American student to be admitted to and graduate from VUSM.

Watkins, professor of Cardiac Surgery and associate dean of postdoctoral program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, thanked the school for its work in providing opportunities for students underrepresented in medicine and encouraged lecture-goers to continue the pursuit of diversity.

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