'Still the Greatest Profession'

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Reflections on Medicine - February 2008   

By Tom Arnold, MD    

The medical practice of gastroenterology/internal medicine has improved greatly from the standpoint of patient care and treatment. Earlier diagnosis and treatment with endoscopy of the colon is saving thousands of patients with early cancer of the colon. All aspects of the technology in earlier diagnosis, likewise, have advanced tremendously.

My father was a country doctor. He had four sons who studied medicine; three completed their MD degrees and specialized (after World War II) in gastroenterology, cardiology, and gynecology and obstetrics. Our sister was a graduate nurse.

Dad always said, "Give time with your patients, let them talk, and they will make the diagnosis." This is true today when you add all the current technology to get the correct diagnosis. This was the basis for forming The Diagnostic Clinic of Houston, all internists with medical subspecialties, the largest group of internists in private practice in the United States at the time. So we built a 300-bed Diagnostic Hospital adjacent to the Texas Medical Center with more than 200 surgeons on staff.

Once you become a physician, you realize the great responsibility for the patient as a person, not just a number, and this characterizes the private patient care - your success or failure in the practice of medicine depends on you.

I tell this to young people who are interested in medicine as a career, including my granddaughter: It's not the same medical profession I knew for 50 years, but it is still the greatest profession. In many ways, the patient-doctor relationship has been destroyed by third parties and government laws.

I've always said that every day was a great pleasure to me with my patients and not "just a day of work."

My credo has always been, "If it is needed and there is unity of purpose, success is assured." I feel sure group practice will continue to produce the very best diagnostic medicine and patient care.

Dr. Arnold is a 1944 graduate of The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and has practiced in Houston since 1950. His previous training included two years at Hermann Hospital, two years in the U.S. Army at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., and two years at the Lahey Clinic in Boston, where he trained in gastrointestinal radiology and endoscopy and internal medicine.  

Editor's Note: This is the latest in a continuing series of essays and reflections on medicine by members of the TMA 50-Year Club .   

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