Sunday, June 28, 2009

Of my Mentor and MJ

Sunday morning and I'm feeling alive with a jolt from 2 cups of coffee (and no headache!), wondering how to pull this blog post together. How do I write about my love for the man, my mentor, who passed away unexpectedly in April 2009 and whose grand slam blow-out celebrate-the-man party was held last night in Little Rock and acknowledge the recent death of Michael Jackson in a single post? I've thought a lot about these two men in the last 24 hours; TEA (my mentor) and MJ because the two collided in my life at the same time, the early 1980's, although obviously in very different ways.

The man, my mentor shaped my young professional life, stood as a role model, taught me how to approach tough medical problems, kicked butt, and demanded the best from everyone. Often eccentric and overbearing at times, he could see to the core of an issue with brilliant precision, cull out the distractions, and focus on the important facts, all without forgetting that the patient was at the heart of the matter. From him I learned how to teach others what I knew, skills still part of who I am into the present day. In medicine, we teach. We teach patients and we teach our collegues. We also teach "the young", the newly graduated interns and residents who have more to learn by living medicine than they ever did in the lecture hall. There are amazing teachers and not-so-amazing teachers in our field; I know that I am one of the amazing (self congratulatory, yes) because of TEA, my mentor who by his unique style and personality, taught me how to teach. As I often say, "There are very few things of which I am certain in life but...." (and then I will add of what it is I am certain), of my first class ability to teach, I am certain. Thank you TEA.

And MJ? He was the man that rocked my free time, my down time from the insane hours, the demanding schedule of being a young trainee in Medicine. In 1982 when Thriller was released I was in the midst of my "Chief Residency", an optional but revered fourth year in Internal Medicine working alongside three other very fine colleagues chosen by TEA to help run the training program, teach and supervise "the younger" generation of interns, residents and medical students. A chief residency position was considered a great honor, a chance to work 1:1 with the Chairman of Internal Medicine (TEA), and to learn, learn, learn. I often think about my three co-chiefs, three guys (I think I was the first woman chief resident but certainly not the last) selected by TEA to serve in this position. Those three co-chiefs of mine are all amazing doctors, 2 in private practice and one in academic medicine at Penn State. I know that the four of us were influenced profoundly by our association with TEA.

Wow, here I am starting out the paragraph above with MJ and quickly digressing into talk about my mentor again. That's because this was TEA's weekend to be remembered by all those students, interns, residents, chief residents, and Nephrology fellows as well as peers that he touched with his indelible, irrefutable influence. I wish I could have been there to celebrate but if not there in person, I was there in spirit with my thoughts.

As for MJ, his music was the backdrop to my life in those intense, ball busting, incredible days of the early 1980's and for that, I'm also very grateful. Those were days when I felt alive with the promise of life, something I'm working very hard to find again. If I listen to MJ's music, the creative forces start to flow and I'm grateful for the jump start. Thank you MJ.

RIP to both.


  1. Dr. A. was a great doctor and teacher; it constantly amazed me that in any discussion, he was always able to speak eloquently in great detail and knowledge on any topic even those outside his specialty. The first time I met him, I was a student in the classroom and he gave the lecture. He asked lots of pointed questions. I was in awe and a little nervous! He offered me my first real job. He was demanding; he could be charming, intimidating, condescending or sarcastic, but everything he said had a point and if you listened to him and gave him an honest effort he respected you. I learned so much from him. I loved working for him. He always treated me well. I admired him and treasure the time I worked under him. I will never forget him. I was sad when he left Birmingham. Later, when he learned that I was moving to Houston, he wrote me and asked me to come by and see him. He promised to connect me with the right people for a new job opportunity at UTHSC-H. In a way, Kate, he brought you and me together! Did you know that?

  2. Yes, are so right. It was TEA that brought us together and I never figured that out until you put it in writing. Very cool indeed. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Wonderful post. Wish you'd been there in person. Glad MJ was with you through those inspiring, grueling years.

  4. I like how you combined two very different people in thus post. They both impacted you in tremendous ways. I'm sure you will always remember them!


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