What I learned from the 2 Mikes, and why physicians should be like them

They were both named Mike. Both were superstar physicians and educators at MedStar Health. Both had a wife named Pam, a son, and a daughter. And both died untimely deaths within a year of 50 at the mid-point of their ascending careers, 18 months after being diagnosed with cancer. I don’t believe they knew each other, but having worked with each of them, they will be forever linked in my mind. Amazingly, their lives epitomized what it means to be a great physician and provide helpful lessons for all doctors.

Mike Pipkin came to MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center when the MedStar Emergency Physicians took over the emergency department (ED) in 1999. In 2002 he became the associate chair and then took over as department chair in 2004. Mike lead the MedStar Franklin Square ED during a time of unprecedented growth, culminating in the construction of a new ED able to house the over 110,000 patient visits annually. I became chair of pediatrics in 2002 and began to work with Mike to create our pediatric emergency department (PED)/inpatient unit. No one was more collaborative or supportive than Mike. He went out of his way to assure that the ED ran as a team and made sure everyone’s role was valued. Working with pediatrics, he took a leap of faith to create a PED separate from the single main ED model that redefined how care in a community hospital could be delivered to kids.

Mike Adams arrived at Georgetown as a medical student in 1988. He never left. After his internal medicine residency and chief resident year, he joined the Georgetown University School of Medicine and rose from medical student clerkship director to residency program director in 2008. Throughout all levels of his career, Mike was recognized as an award-winning teacher and clinician. He was recognized with so many “Golden Apple” teaching awards that he was inducted into the “Golden Orchard.” He received the Sol Katz award from the American College of Physicians. At Georgetown, he was inducted into the MAGIS society of master teachers at Georgetown University. I first met Mike in 2013 as MedStar Franklin Square and Georgetown began working together to plan a unique medical student curriculum. His enthusiasm and ability to quickly grasp the big picture of how a community teaching hospital and a major academic medical center could work together helped initiate a process that has culminated in a unique medical student curriculum that is mutually beneficial to both institutions.

Now that I have introduced these amazing doctors, here are the characteristics that all of us could learn from and try to emulate.

1. Always put the patient first. Mike Pipkin not only exemplified his motto of “every patient, every time,” he expected it from everyone who worked in the ED. Whether he was working clinically or helping resolve a patient complaint, his focus was on providing the highest quality care and service no matter what. In the same manner, Mike Adams was known as being the “doctor of the doctors” at Georgetown. To be trusted and valued by colleagues enough to have them seek care from you is a strong endorsement not only of clinical skill, but professionalism and patient centeredness.

2. Know your “stuff.” Both Mikes were outstanding clinicians able to diagnose and manage the most complex cases.

3. Educate others. It is not enough to be a smart doctor in a bubble. Students, nurses, colleagues can all become better when around a great educator. Both Mikes were great educators. As noted above, Mike Adam’s teaching was legendary at a venerable institution known for great teaching. There was never a moment when Mike Pipkin was holding rounds alone in the ED. He was always surrounded by a group of people waiting to learn from his experience.

4. Enjoy your job (and your life). In the era of high rates of burnout and physician dissatisfaction, enjoying the practice of medicine can be the exception, rather than the rule. Both Mikes loved what they did. I can’t remember a time when either of them walked around grumpy or sad (I am sure it happened, but I never saw it). They always smiled, projected an aura of satisfaction, and made others enjoy being around them. Even as their illnesses progressed, there was no time for moping or feeling sorry for themselves. I have never seen two individuals handle adversity with such grace and positivity.

For those who knew either Mike better than I did, I can only hope I have captured their spirits. Though they lived independent lives, their common linkages that crossed my path will always be remembered. I can only hope their lessons and memories help other physicians become the best doctors they can be, and be “more like Mike.”

Scott Krugman is a pediatrician and can be reached on Twitter @dr_scottk.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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