“To see your students excel, to perform an experiment that yields new scientific knowledge, and especially to help some seriously ill patients recover so they can see their children and grandchildren grow up—what more could one ask?”
Dr. Marvin Stone
Dr. Marvin Stone reminisces as we talk in the library of his comfortable North Dallas home. He has had a most magnificent career in medicine, including being the first chief of oncology and director of the Baylor Sammons Cancer Center in Dallas— positions he held for 32 years—and, prior, being on the faculty of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in hematology-oncology. His total accomplishments comprise far more than these, including multiple teaching awards and being the author of more than 250 published medical articles.
In his new book, When to Act and When to Refrain, Dr. Stone looks back on teaching, doing research and caring for patients, all three of which he enjoyed tremendously. The rest of the book’s title – A Lifetime of Learning the Science and Art of Medicine – is telling. The Science is obvious, but what is the “Art?”
“Humanities is the art and is just as important as the science of medicine,” says Dr. Stone. “You are dealing with people who are ill or fear they will become ill. They are worried about themselves and their families.” His hero is William Osler at Johns Hopkins, who taught that science and humanities were “twin berries on the same stem.” “It’s important that people realize that. In the past, pre-med required an overemphasis on science. In college, I had two electives in three years.” After being accepted at the University of Chicago Medical School, he was able to take two philosophy courses his third year of college. Humanities, he says, tended to be underemphasized.
Perhaps he is sensitive to humanities because his calling to enter the field of medicine occurred under very “human” circumstances. “When I was in junior high school, my mother had to have major surgery,” he said. “When I visited her in the hospital, I was struck by the ambience – a healing kind of atmosphere pervaded the hospital and was clearly present when I talked to the doctors and nurses. I decided then and there that I would try to be a doctor.”
“To see your students excel, to perform an experiment that yields new scientific knowledge, and especially to help some seriously ill patients recover so they can see their children and grandchildren grow up—what more could one ask? ”
Dr. Marvin Stone
The book is replete with examples of “when to act” and “when to refrain.” Regarding an example of “when to act,” Dr. Stone was on faculty at Southwestern Medical School. “I got a call from the Chairman of Admissions to the Med School. He asked if it was possible to cure advanced Hodgkin’s disease. This was in the 1970s. I told him it was possible and quoted a new approach developed at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but the long-term outcome was not known yet. Why, I asked?”
Dr. Stone was told that there was an applicant at UT Southwestern with the highest MCAT score they had ever seen. When the young man was a sophomore in college, he developed symptoms of advanced Hodgkin’s disease. He was seen at University of Pennsylvania Hospital and told to reconsider Med School.
“He dropped out, got the new chemotherapy regimen from University of Pennsylvania Hospital and NIH, and the disease went into remission. Three years later, ‘Can I come now?’ He was told it was still unwise for him to enter Med School. So he went to Harvard Law School instead and graduated near the top of his class. ‘Can I come now?’ He did finally go to Southwestern Medical School, and Dr. Stone followed him through his medical student years. He has remained well ever since and became an excellent attorney and physician. “Writing the book gave us the chance to renew our friendship,” said Dr. Stone.
He said there are a number of situations illustrating “when to refrain.” “One patient I followed for 31 years had an unusual lymphoma,” he said. “She had complicating causes, but I gave her minimal therapy because she seemed to do well with treatment that was not so vigorous.” He explained that there are different rates of progression of the disease, and it is important to keep the tempo in mind. Is it rapid or slow? If slow, it may be best to back off or refrain for even long time periods. This patient, he said, eventually passed away, but from other causes.
Dr. Stone has become known not only for his medical contributions, but for his philanthropy as well. “I wanted to do something to try and give back,” he said. “I became a board member of Southwestern Medical Foundation five years ago, and the President, Kathleen Gibson, asked what the new board members were interested in. I said ‘scholarships.’”
There was a personal reason for that choice, he says. “Near the end of my first year in Med School at the University of Chicago, I was awarded a scholarship and kept it the entire time. I hadn’t applied for it, but I was very fortunate to receive it,” he said. “Also, today, there is this huge debt for medical students—$120,000 to more than $200,000 for some students. Med School is not easy anyway, but that on top of it! This debt influences students in a number of ways that are not healthy. They have to make decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make.” He wanted to do whatever he could do, so he and his wife, Kathy, established, among other gifts, a Professorship of Humanities in Science and Medicine at the University of Texas at Dallas (there they are—“humanities” again). “We wish we could do more.”
This wise and dignified man is a stellar example of what a doctor should be. His book will serve as an inspiration to all young people who want to be doctors, and to all people who value a fruitful life, generously lived.
Linda Faulkner Johnston – The Tradition
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