There are so many fond memories that I have of Duke University Medical Center and the Department of Anesthesiology. The medical center was committed to academic excellence in all that was done. Education and the generation of new knowledge through research and clinical care were tended to and honored better here than in most other places. One reason that these missions could all be accomplished was that more money was put into these essential missions rather than into the pockets of the faculty.
I have often told people that when I moved in 1984 from the University of Alabama at Birmingham to Duke that I noticed a remarkable change in the parking lot ecology. Successful physicians in Birmingham drove fancy, imported sports cars that they parked in their own special parking lot. The faculty at Duke drove Fords or Chevrolets and parked with everyone else. In simply surveying the parking lot at Duke, one could immediately tell that it was different than most places.
At Duke, I was recruited to help the departments of surgery and medicine to build a successful clinical heart program to complement the vibrant research that was already under way. When I asked Dr. David C. Sabiston, Jr. if we would have trouble getting support from the cardiac surgeons in attempting to do our own clinical cardiac investigation, he replied, “just let me know if you have any trouble.” I never had to bring it up in any of our weekly meetings. Another most influential leader at Duke with whom I had the pleasure of working was Dr. Joseph “Joe” Greenfield. I prized this relationship not only because of the fact that he was a fellow Southerner, but also for his gift of finding simplistic solutions to complex problems. For example, when asked how best to manage patients with coronary artery disease, Joe simply stated “the heart needs blood,” and we spent countless hours in the operating room and heart catheterization laboratories seeing that simple concept happen.
When I first started working at Duke in the Cardiac Division, I was astounded by their strong work ethic. Division members came in every Sunday to see their patients. This indicated to me that I was in a place that cared deeply about the physician-patient relationship. Our credo was “if you start a case, you finish it.” For the same reason that we did not relieve each other, we also came in on the weekend to evaluate and plan our cases not only for the next day, but also for the entire week.
What I recall most fondly from my 17 years at Duke, however, was watching countless medical students, residents, junior and senior faculty (I would name them, but because of my flawed memory I am afraid I would omit someone) work together to improve their personal careers, and in doing so, accomplish things that were not thought to be possible. One example was the progression of cardiac anesthesia to become one of, if not the most influential team in the new specialty.
Many of the wonderful people I had the privilege to work with and learn from at Duke have continued to pursue the impossible—transforming the standard of care, both at home and abroad. There is nothing more satisfying than watching a career blossom and bloom. The fact that this happens so often at Duke fills me with pride and admiration for my many colleagues.