January 7, 2005

Rodriguez remembered as gifted educator

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Michael Rodriguez, M.D.

Rodriguez remembered as gifted educator

R. Michael Rodriguez, M.D., who served as associate professor of Medicine for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, died Dec. 21, 2004. He was 53.

Dr. Rodriguez spent most of his career as a busy private practice physician, but turned his focus to teaching medical students in 1997. In less than a decade, he became one of Vanderbilt's most beloved instructors and an asset to the School of Medicine.

“His was a unique combination of enthusiasm, knowledge and sensitivity that made him a role model for all of us and one of the most admired educators our school has ever had. There are not many people who have all of those unique qualities,” said Steven G. Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Mike's passing is a profound loss for the school and especially for future medical students who will not have the opportunity to know Mike Rodriguez.”

“As a teacher, Mike was concerned about the progress of students, and he had the patience to sit down with them and work with them until they were able to understand the material,” said Bonnie Miller, M.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education. “To the students, he was a coach and not a judge. He had a gift, and he will certainly be missed.”

Dr. Rodriguez was born in Kingsville, Texas, and earned his B.A. in Biology from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. He received his medical degree from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston in 1980, and came to Vanderbilt University Medical Center as an intern in the Department of Medicine that year.

He went on to serve a residency and postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Medicine and entered into private practice at Saint Thomas Hospital in 1985. Dr. Rodriguez remained in this position and added an academic appointment at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1989. He was named medical director of the Department of Respiratory Care at Saint Thomas in 2000 and associate professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt in 2001.

Dr. Rodriguez specialized in pulmonary medicine and was a member of various thoracic societies. He also developed and patented the Pleurex catheter.

At Vanderbilt, Dr. Rodriguez served as director of Minority Affairs from 1998-2002 and until his death was a member of the admissions committee and the academic programs committee. He was one of the first faculty members to be named a Master Clinical Teacher, which is designated based on teaching excellence and is accompanied by funding which encourages the continued pursuit of excellence in teaching.

Third-year VUSM student Dave Penner said Dr. Rodriguez's style of teaching made learning a welcome challenge.

“I likened him to a stern father who took great pride in his children, helping them grow by expecting the best from them. I knew working with him in medicine would be very demanding, yet I really looked forward to it,” Penner said. “Physical Diagnosis was the best class I took in my first two years because for the first time I felt like I was on my way to becoming a physician, and I owe that to Dr Rod.”

Dr. Rodriguez was the recipient of various teaching awards, including the Hugh Jackson Morgan Award for Inpatient Teaching, the Thomas Brittingham Teaching Award, the Shovel Award, the Housestaff Teaching Award, and the Housestaff Distinguished Teacher Award. He was also honored with the Affirmative Action Award, the Grant W. Liddle Award for exemplary leadership in the promotion of scientific research, and the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey Humanism Award.

Dr. Rodriguez was active in the community, serving as a volunteer for the American Red Cross and founding the Race the Trace, an annual bicycle race to raise funds for research in testicular and prostate cancer.

He was also dedicated to his children, and avidly followed their academic and extracurricular activities. Dr. Rodriguez enjoyed being active himself, staying physically fit and at one time showing his athletic abilities on the Saint Thomas “Jock Docs” softball team.

Dr. Rodriquez is survived by his wife Missy, two children, Jonas and Sara, mother Juanita Rodriguez and father-in-law Jack Shapiro.

Donations in Dr. Rodriguez's honor may be sent to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Saint Thomas Hospital.

The School of Medicine is planning an additional memorial service in honor of Dr. Rodriguez for those students and faculty members who were not on campus for the funeral services. No date has been set, but plans are being made for late January.

George C. Hill, Ph.D., associate dean for Diversity in Medical Education, has announced that, starting with the next incoming class, the School will name one of its dean scholarships — which are meant to enhance diversity in the student body — the R. Michael Rodriguez scholarship.