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Good Doctors, Good Human Beings

April 28, 2006

Source of Article: COLLEGIUM , A Publication of Baylor University , College of Arts & Sciences, 2000. PP 4-9.

Four graduates of the College who are successful physicians laud their liberal arts backgrounds

The following four physicians received a liberal arts education through Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences. Each is distinguished in his or her respective specialty and profession. Mere noteworthy, though, is their commitment to being riot only good physicians, but good human beings, as Dr William Hillis states in the a accompanying story, "Medicine, Literature, Philosophy: Combining Our Stories." Here, they address how their liberal arts education enhanced their ability to relate to patients, and brought richness, understanding, and diversity to their development as doctors and as humanitarians.


Dr. Scott Harper, B.A. '88, M.D. '92

Even though Scott Harper came to Baylor with medical school on his mind, he found his convictions temporarily swayed by the power of what he learned in Professor Ann Miller's literature classes.

"What I learned in Ann Miller's class so affected me that I almost decided to pursue a career in English literature. It was that life-changing," said Harper, now a practicing physician who in July began a two-year stint with the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta .

"Prior to my college years, I hadn't been exposed to the liberal arts as much. I came largely from a science background in high school and in my family, and so it opened a whole new world to me,' said Harper, who triple majored at Baylor in biology, English, and German.

Prior to moving his family wife Stephanie (B,A. '89) and newly adopted infant daughter Chloe Zi Xin- to Atlanta in June, Harper had completed two years of a sub-specialty fellowship in infectious diseases at the University of California in San Francisco . He worked at four hospitals, two that provided indigent care and two that provided private care. Although he always has enjoyed patient care, it was through his work in San Francisco , with its high rate of HIV and AIDS, that he learned to relate to and sympathize with patients more acutely.

"With outpatients, I dealt almost solely with HIV patients. One of the most important things for me is to try to figure out within the first 10 minutes of talking to a patient where they're coming from, not just in how they view their disease, but socially, economically. Do they have any kind of sense of their own spirituality? It's fundamental to how I approach the rest of the interview and the physical exam and even the kinds of tests I will order," he said.

Harper credits his liberal arts education with helping him tend-op communication skills, which are critical to a good patient/ physician relationship, and with deepening his perspective on patients and their conditions.

"When you think back to some of the literature, it does help you to see each of these patients who walks in as a short story or a protagonist. They each have a story, and you have to be able to let them tell that story," he said.

For Harper, who spent two years abroad with Youth With a Mission after finishing medical school, faith is instrumental in how he practices medicine and provides patient care.

"My view goes even deeper than a patient/physician relationship," he said. " I try to see a person from the perspective of being an eternal being who is sitting in my office and who, like me, has been created in God's image. No matter what has gotten him and me to this place, we are here at the same moment, and I need to find some way to identify with him no matter how different we may be."

This isn't a perspective he learned in medical school, but it is one that is true to his nature and beliefs.

In medical school we're taught you should try to possess a certain professional distance from your patients or you'll lose your objectivity, and I think to some extent that's true," Harper said, especially if treating family members or friends. " But with patients, per se, it's vitally important to identify with them, even on an emotional level, to assure their needs are being met.

"It's a biblical example," he said. "Jesus wept over all sorts of episodes. It's this same kind of identification with your patients."

Although such an approach may not yet be accepted at medical schools, for Harper it's essential.

"Just looking at medical students and residents...I see that so frequently they're fading not just a liberal arts education but even more fundamental issues in their lives. There. is no sense they have acquired any moral knowledge along the way" he said.

"To have had just one course like the one offered at Baylor," he said, referring to the Literary and Philosophical Perspectives on Medicine course, "I think it would be foundational in how it would impact the rest of their careers and their interactions with patients."

- Vicki Moab Kabat


DR. RON WILSON, B.A. '71, M.D. '74

He was a chemistry major who learned to love theater, music, an art; a scientist who enjoyed the debates in religion class and the books and poems in literature courses. And he' said the liberal arts education he received as an undergraduate at Baylor has proven invaluable in his role as a physician who deals with chronic illnesses. It is a debt Dr. Ronald Wilson, a Waco nephrologist, is determined to repay.

"I am one of those persons who bleeds greed and gold, grid I try to help Baylor as much a I am able," he said.

To that end, Wilson teaches a course in physiology in the University's health, human performance, and recreation department and serves as one of the athletic department's team doctors.

As a student, Wilson transferred to Baylor from a university in Arkansas and chose a premed major. Instead of going tale traditional bachelor of science route, he pursued a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry.

"I choose to go for a BA. so I could take more liberal arts classes," he said. "I did experience some concern that, once I got to medical school, I might feel at a loss because I didn't have a pure science background, but that wasn't the case at all. In medical school, they teach you what you need to know."

Medical school could give him the skills he heeded to be a kidney specialist, but Wilson said his liberal arts background provided him a with a wealth of knowledge for forming good relationships with his patients.

"The diversity of the liberal arts, from classes in theater and art appreciation to marriage and family and psychology courses, has helped me with my patients and has given me a base to build a stronger rapport," he said.

Wilson went to Baylor College of Medicine for his medical training and served nine years in the Air Force. He began his private practice in Waco 1993. For all his well-rounded education, Wilson acknowledges it is patients who have taught him the most valuable lessons - about faith, fortitude, and lives well-lived.

"I deal with chronic illness," he said 'People come to me with kidney failure, which is a terminal disease. Artificial therapy, whether transplant or dialysis, will extend one's life, but kidney failure usually does mean a shortened life span. Because of that, patients have to deal with the fact that their lives are not going to be as they had planned."

Wilson has, found that those patients who can make life meaningful and who have a strong faith cope better with their situations. Witnessing that struggle with the fragility of life has strengthened his own beliefs.

"No one plans to spend life connected to a machine, but I have witnessed that those patients who are Christian cope much differently from those who are nonbelievers," he said, "They art able to find things that make life meaningful. I have seen wonderful people go through these illnesses, and they never lost their inner strength. They leave this world with grace and dignity."

- Julie Carlson



When it comes to Betty Griffin Feezor, the doctor may or may not be in.

"I'm Dr. Griffin when I'm working, and Mrs. Feezor when I'm not," she jokingly said about two of her many roles in life -- pediatrician and wife. "It's occasionally a bit confusing but usually just fun. It's nice not having to be Dr. Griffin sometimes."

In addition to pediatrician and wife, Griffin has other roles: mother, grandmother, photographer, reporter, historian, linguist -- to name a few. Griffin 's journey to her medical profession was circuitous, at best.

Since college, her interests have been varied, her studies unconventional and her days hectic and rewarding. Between her sophomore year in college at Baylor as a chemistry major and the time she began medical school, Griffin studied and learned three languages (Spanish, German, and Cantonese), added a journalism and Spanish major, traveled to Europe to study European history, and worked as a newspaper photographer and reporter.

"By the middle of my sophomore year in college, many of my friends said they would feel totally lost without medicine in their futures," she said. "I began to wonder if I were truly dedicated enough for medicine, since I knew I would thoroughly enjoy teaching, writing, traveling, or working with photography if I could not become a doctor."

During her senior year, she traveled to Europe to study European history with Dr. James Vardaman (professor emeritus of history) and German at the University of Vienna 's international summer language school.

When she returned to Waco in August 1978, she worked as a newspaper reporter and photographer at the Waco Tribune-Herald. After a year at the newspaper, she returned to Baylor to study international journalism and then history in its graduate school. She then spent 1 1/2 years in Hong Kong teaching history and English though Baylor's exchange program with the Hong Kong Baptist College . Upon her return to America , she signed up for post-baccalaureate classes in physics, immunology and virology, and advanced organic chemistry at Millsaps College . She enrolled at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine in 1984.

"As I explained to the dean of admissions there, indecision can do wonderful things for one's resumé," Griffin said.

Today, as a pediatrician at the Children's Clinic in Wilmington , N.C. , Griffin takes an active interest in her patients' lives, attending their T-ball games and church musical productions. She also is a senior attending physician at New Hanover Regional Medical Center and helps teach medical students, physician assistants, nurse practitioner students, and family practice residents from Bowman-Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University , the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , East Carolina School of Medicine, and Duke University School of Medicine.

Griffin is married to Bill Feezor, and they have two grown children and two grandchildren.

Even though her journey to becoming a pediatrician was unusual, Griffin said she wouldn't change a thing. "I think my liberal arts background has helped me not only to be a better doctor but a better person, which is more important. It taught me to think critically and logically, consume vast amounts of written material in very short spans of time, and communicate clearly and concisely."

- LoAna Lopez



Dr. Elaine Lambert was in Philadelphia , Pa. , attending a medical conference, when she phoned in for her interview from a park across from the Museum of Art , which she planned to visit later.

The situation exemplified the balance she Maintains between her medical practice and her ongoing personal enrichment, a model patterned after a Waco surgeon she met in her actuate years at Baylor.

It was in an Honors Colloquium discussion led by Dr. Nick Bellegie about Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward that the local doctor's words resonated with her. In a piece she wrote for The Baylor Line (June 1979) she explains: This Renaissance man proved mine that it was possible to continue to learn while still maintaining the extremely demanding schedule of a physician. He awoke in me the desire to read again and to become acquainted the joys of the humanities and literature after my long saturation to the sciences. Somehow that night Dr. Bellegie exemplified the balance between the sciences and the arts that I desired to attain."

Twenty years law, Lambert, now a rheumatologist in private practice with Sports Orthopedics and Rehabilitation in Menlo Park , Calif. , continues to benefit from all the facets of humanities she was exposed to as a student.

"I'm certainly one who, when I have a chance to talk to premed students, encourages them to get a liberal arts education," said Lambert, who also serves as the team physician for Stanford University 's women's volleyball and basketball teams. "I happened to be a biology major, but if I had it to do would have chosen English as a major."

In her practice, Lambert has found that the depth and diversity of a liberal arts education have benefited her relationship with patients.

"The broadness of a liberal arts education has a lot to do with communication, with being 'able to write well, with understanding perspectives of other people because you've known something about cultures when you learned languages, or when you developed an appreciation for historical events and the arts. All these things go into being a good physician. That kind of background is important when you're taking care of people," she said.

One of the most helpful classes she took at Baylor was Dr. Dan McGee's bioethics, a topic she found woefully underrepresented in medical school.

"Dan McGee took a wonderful approach. lie brought out both sides of the issue and really made one think. He helped us under-stand that, as physicians, we had to be able to present our patients with all the options," Lambert said.

In her first year at medical school, Lambert joined with other classmates and, using materials from Dr. McGee's class, continued the discussion about bioethics. "It was extremely helpful to have some basis that I had learned at Baylor and then be able to share and expand on that with others in medical school," she said.

Lambert, who also is a clinical associate professor of medicine and of functional restoration (sports medicine) at Stanford University School of Medicine, added, "The more opportunities you take advantage of at a university level to broaden your educational experience, the better, particularly if you're interested in going into medicine."

- Vicki Marsh Kabat