July 9, 2015

Improving patients’ quality of life drives Lind’s clinical care

As a gastroenterologist, Christopher Lind, M.D., says he is often the “butt” of jokes, but few people truly appreciate the role the gut plays in their happiness.

Gastroenterologist Christopher Lind, M.D., has been treating patients at Vanderbilt for nearly three decades. (photo by Susan Urmy)

As a gastroenterologist, Christopher Lind, M.D., says he is often the “butt” of jokes, but few people truly appreciate the role the gut plays in their happiness.

“We are a quality of life field, and it’s so rewarding to see people with longstanding issues and help them figure them out. They feel more like normal human beings, and that’s a very rewarding thing.”

Lind, now in his 27th year as a Vanderbilt clinician, grew up in Colorado and was a math major at Pomona College in Southern California. With a father in academics, Lind expected he would go to graduate school to be a statistician but started working in a free medical clinic.

“There were no doctors in the family, but I started thinking I might be interested in medicine. I felt like I needed to have some interaction with people in my career,” he said.

He interviewed out west and decided to come to Vanderbilt for medical school without ever visiting.

“The first time I ever stepped in the state of Tennessee was the day Elvis died,” Lind recalled. “I picked up my southern accent after that and know exactly when it happened. It was definitely the end of second year, beginning of third year when you start taking histories from patients.”

Lind met his wife Melissa, an undergraduate nursing student at the time, in the medical library his first year, and saw the new Vanderbilt University Hospital open in his fourth year.

General surgery was his favorite rotation but he knew he also wanted the patient interaction of internal medicine. Gastroenterology, with its mix of hands-on colonoscopy and endoscopy and clinic-based patient evaluations, was the perfect fit.

Lind graduated from medical school in 1981, was resident and chief resident at the University of Virginia and did fellowship training in gastroenterology at the University of Florida and UVA.

He then joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1988, bringing special skills in motility studies. When the gastrointestinal tract’s movement becomes abnormal, a motility study can tease out the cause. It involves a special catheter with sensor points that measure the function of various muscles.

Lind also performs endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a more specialized scoping procedure to treat problems in the bile or pancreatic ducts. The scope has an extra channel to manipulate catheters to remove stones or place stents.

Among his outside interests, Vanderbilt gastroenterologist Christopher Lind, M.D., is an avid tennis player and skier.

“I love doing these special procedures, but I also enjoy the clinic. With some of my longstanding clinic patients, it’s partly psychotherapy, partly medicine. They’re having a flare of their symptoms and as we get into it, we talk about the things that might influence it. It can be very rewarding to help people work through that,” he said.

Lind has been heavily involved in education, frequently teaching medical students and previously serving as fellowship training program director.

At age 53, Lind made good on something he threatened for years — he performed his own screening colonoscopy. His colleague George Avant, M.D., was there to supervise, but Lind guided the scope himself.

“I had always thought I knew what it would feel like but wanted to know for sure. I barely felt it going in, but once you’re coming out you don’t feel anything. And if you take some tissue off, it’s not a depth at which there are nerves that you could feel.

“I’ll admit it was a little tricky,” he said with a laugh.

Outside the hospital, Lind stays active with tennis and skiing, and especially relishes a yearly ski trip with Vanderbilt colleagues and other Nashville friends, a tradition of more than 20 years. He and Melissa have two grown children.

“My wife would call me a hospital rat. I’m a workaholic. But Vanderbilt has such a sense of community. As a medical student, it felt so nurturing. There was never any sense that if you couldn’t cut it you would be out. It was all about how to help us excel.”