Michael Attas, MD

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By the time Michael Attas was a junior at Baylor University, he was already the lead author of a published scientific research article in the medical field. Not only did his experience writing the article influence him to go to medical school instead of a Psychology graduate program, but it placed him years ahead of his peers in research experience and prestige. Now the Chief of Cardiology at Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, a Medical Humanities professor at Baylor, and an Episcopal priest, Dr. Attas continues to take seriously the call to be a lifelong learner.

Since coming to Baylor, Dr. Attas has been very involved in helping students to have a meaningful undergraduate research experience. Dr. Attas helped begin the Medical Humanities program at Baylor, in which students may receive a minor. A proposal to add a Medical Humanities major at Baylor is currently under review. The Medical Humanities major would be the first of its kind in the United States and would most likely attract top pre-medicine students from across the nation. In addition, Dr. Attas has directed numerous theses on such topics as ethical and legal problems in clinical practice and biomedical research, as well as philosophical, historical, literary, and religious dimensions of medicine and health care. Dr. Attas says that he enjoys mentoring thesis writers because he loves watching the transformation of a student's mind as he or she learns to think in new ways. "The students in the Honors College are amazing. It moves me to see their minds being challenged, growing and expanding," Dr. Attas says. "I learn as much as they do."

For Dr. Attas, undergraduate scholarly research is important to those who decide, as he did, to commit to being lifelong learners. Admitting with a smile that he is "an idea junkie," Dr. Attas explains that it is essential to train the mind to process new information, and that this is what the undergraduate experience is truly about � not the memorizing of facts and figures, but teaching the mind to creatively process knowledge.

"The experience of participating in medical research and authoring a scientific paper that I had as an undergraduate was not typical at that time at Baylor," says Dr. Attas. Now, however, Baylor is unique in that the opportunities to perform critical research are nearly as plentiful as the number of faculty members committed to the mentoring process. Dr. Attas advises Baylor students to take advantage of these opportunities because he has seen first-hand the impact they have had on students in the past. Dr. Attas' desire to guide undergraduate students as they write theses or tackle the difficult issues surrounding religious and ethical matters in medicine serves as an ideal model for students who also seek to challenge their minds and their perspectives while studying at Baylor.

Waco Trib Columns

Michael Attas: The First Loss

Reflections on Dr. Attas

What's it like to shadow Dr. Attas?  Baylor Premeds Rotating at Waco Cardiology  Reflect


Cardiology - A Measure of Wisdom  Posted by Gregg Fox at Tuesday, May 1, 2012

 

Yesterday, I had the immense pleasure of shadowing Dr. Attas at his cardiology practice near Providence Hospital.  As had been the case when first hearing Dr. Attas speak at an Alpha Epsilon Delta Meeting last semester, I was awestruck - both immediately and throughout the experience - by the sense of dignity that he emanated, the warm compassion he showed his patients, and the sheer depths of knowledge contained in the eyes set nonchalantly behind a pair of nose-bridged readers.  Over the course of my time with he and his patients, I was also consistently amazed by the breadth and depth of his hobbies and activities; not only does he perform in-office, hospital, and surgical procedures and consultations, but he also (somehow) finds time to write both a column for the Waco Herald-Tribune (the latest of which was mentioned by at least five patients) and fully-fledged books (a new one, Fly Fishing - The Sacred Art, can be found on Amazon!), participate in monastic retreats to beautiful abbeys, partake of links golf in Scotland, and participate in an undoubtedly innumerable host of other fantastic and enriching experiences.  In short, he is one of the most grounded and down-to-earth yet simultaneously interesting people and physicians that I have ever met, and from his patients' reactions to and discussions with him, it is clear that recognize him for the treasure that he is.  Possibly the best example of the unique rapport and comfort that he shares with his patients was during a consultation with DA, an 88 year-old female with a history of hypertension.  Do not be led astray by this description, however, as DA was anything but decrepit, evincing a huge personality - best described, I think, as "spunky" - which Dr. Attas eagerly reciprocated with soft-spoken jocularity and reverent philosophizing by turns.  She also displayed a remarkable medical self-awareness and self-agency that I had noted in a number of Dr. Attas' other patients (speaking volumes once again of his strength as a physician); almost universally, they were unafraid to ask questions and seemed to yearn for additional, proactive means by which they could participate in their care.  As the visit progressed, DA began to talk about her new family practice physician, apparently a quite-young doctor who immediately began to outline a plan to "fix" her.  "I'm not 16 - you're not gonna make me new.  I just want to be comfortable," she recounted of the experience, and Dr. Attas smiled in obvious agreement.  During another consultation, Dr. Attas had made mention of the fact that he didn't like to "treat the EKG rather than the patient," and my mind was drawn back to that statement throughout DA and Dr. Attas' jovial exchanges.  By listening to his patients, giving them someone they can trust in and rely upon to make decisions for them rather than at them, he empowers them to transform their medical experiences from soliloquy to conversation. 


CARDIOLOGY ROTATION  Posted by Stephanie Allen at Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I was so happy to do my final Supervised Clinical Medicine rotation with Dr. Mike Attas!  I have heard him speak several times and have heard so many great things about him but have never had the opportunity to take one of his courses. Thus, spending a few hours with him in his Cardiology practice was very insightful and enjoyable.   As many of you have commented in class, Dr. Attas has such strong, continuous relationships with his patients. Not only is he very personable and kind, but he has also practiced in the Waco area for many years, serving as the physician for some patients for over 20 years. The afternoon I shadowed Dr. Attas, we saw a variety of patients, most of whom were over 50 years of age. Having shadowed a cardiologist before, many themes began to emerge: patients who were in bad health and therefore had heart problems, patients with heart problems related to old age and patients with a multitude of other health problems that were likely not cardiac-related. There were many patients whose chief complaint was something very vague, like "fatigue" or "pain". I, once again, realized what great problem-solvers physicians must be in order to deduce such mysterious sensations into something tangible and even treatable.  I found the variety of patients very exciting and interesting. Everything from a sassy 88-year-old man whose hearing aids could probably use a new battery to an anxiety-ridden 36-year-old single mother to a 56-year-old potential drug-seeker to a 57-year-old pleasantly plump pig farmer who enjoys his french fries far too much. Watching Dr. Attas flow fluidly from patient to patient, story to story, situation to situation, with such ease was inspiring and rich. I hope that, during my years of practice, I will be able to develop such skills of embodying whatever is needed in the exam room to bring patience and expertise to whatever situation is present.

 


Dr. Robert Baird Reflects on Dr. Mike Attas' contribution to the Medical Humanities Program, Spring Banquet 2012


In Honor of Mike Attas

April 11, 2012

 

Sometimes I think I have gotten so old that I can remember when everything was founded at Baylor.  I certainly remember when the Medical Humanities Program was created.  It grew out of a single course that explored medicine through literary and philosophical sources.  No course in the history of Baylor comes close to having had as much professional fire power as that one.  Limited to an enrollment of 25 students, it was team-taught by Ann Miller, Bill Hillis, and Kay Toombs, Talk about a student getting his or her monies worth.

Over time that one course morphed into the Baylor Humanities Program that now has over 300 majors, and the person as responsible for that as anyone is Mike Attas whose accomplishments we here celebrate.

I first met Mike years ago when I was teaching a continuing education course for Baylor.  Entitled Thinking About Matters That Matter, we met one evening a week for 8 weeks.  I always enjoyed those continuing education courses because discussing philosophical ideas with people in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties is such a difference experience than conversations with eighteen year olds.  But this particular course was unusual because I encountered the mind of Mike Attas—not simply his challenging questions and insights, that would have been enough—but I bumped up against a physician who was so creatively compassionate in the way he thought about the  practice of medicine.

Our interaction during that course let to a friendship in which I was invited further into his life as we explored the prospect of his becoming an Episcopal Priest, which as we all know he did become.

So there you have it—a thoughtful physician, an Episcopal Priest, and on top of that an admired teacher, influential writer, and a key figure in the creation of the Baylor Medical Humanities Program—an astounding legacy we gratefully celebrate.

But what I want to say to Mike before all of you, is that my life personally has been so enriched over the years by the conversations he and I have had, conversations about faith and doubt, conversations about what it means to become who we can fully be in the face of the pains and glories of being human, conversations about physician-assisted suicide, hospice care, and other end-of-life issues, conversations about health care policies and the list goes on.  And, of course, in recent years, he has become a mentor to the entire Waco community through his provocative and comforting pieces in the Tribune Herald—provocative and comforting—that is not easy to pull off.

So, Mike on behalf of myself, thank you for the stimulating role you have played in my life  On behalf of the Baylor community, thank you for the role you have played in the creation and direction of the Medical Humanities Program  And on behalf of the broader community, thank you for the role you have played as physician-priest to the Waco family, helping us to understand such matters as the difference between curing and healing, the complexity of moral decision-making and the role intelligent faith can play those decisions.  In so many ways Mike you have been and continue to be our teacher.  Thank you for that.       

   

Robert M Baird

Professor, Department of Philosophy