To his colleagues, past Texas Medical Association President Don Read, MD, was the sort of guy most people think of when they picture a kindly doctor.
“I never saw him raise his voice or respond to anyone out of frustration or anger,” says Rick Snyder, MD, an intervention cardiologist who worked with Dr. Read at Medical City Dallas. “If you’re ever thinking Marcus Welby, you’re thinking Don Read.”
But unlike the doctor from the hit 1970s TV show, Dr. Read – who died March 21 at age 77 after battling pancreatic cancer – was the genuine article: a respected healer who was also a fierce advocate for physicians and their patients, Dr. Snyder says.
Though Dr. Read was soft-spoken, people paid close attention to what he said, says Carlos Cardenas, MD, the Edinburg gastroenterologist who took over from Dr. Read as TMA president in 2017. That’s because Dr. Read had a deep understanding of organized medicine.
“He was always a person you could look to on what direction [TMA] should be moving on,” Dr. Cardenas said. “If you needed a gut check, you needed to talk to Don.”
Dr. Read’s leadership earned him numerous honors, including the 2019 TMA Distinguished Service Award, which will be presented posthumously at TexMed 2019 in Dallas this month.
Born in Fort Worth in 1942, Dr. Read graduated from Austin College in Sherman in 1964 and The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1968. After an externship in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), where he helped deliver medical care in remote areas, Dr. Read served as a U.S. Navy surgeon in a mobile surgical hospital unit in Vietnam with front-line Marines. He was awarded a Bronze Star.
Dr. Read worked in Illinois before returning to Texas in 1978. He helped co-found Texas Colon and Rectal Surgeons in Dallas, which became one of the largest colorectal practices in the United States. He quickly became immersed in the Dallas County Medical Society (DCMS) governance.
Likewise, Dr. Read’s TMA presidency from 2016 to 2017 was just one of many leadership roles. He chaired the Patient-Physician Advisory Committee from 2005 to 2007, chaired the Board of Trustees from 2014 to 2015, and served on the Board of Directors for TMA Practice Edge in 2015.
As TMA president, Dr. Read was especially vocal about the harmful impact of the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA). When a top Medicare official came to speak with Dallas physicians in 2016, Dr. Read told him bluntly that, “All these small practices are doomed to fail under this system.”
But one of Dr. Read’s defining moments in medicine came as a patient. In 2005, he contracted neuro-invasive West Nile virus, with encephalitis, meningitis, and polio-like paralysis. He later created a West Nile Support Group in Dallas in 2006, one of the few in the country.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to survive,” he later said. “When you’re that sick, you realize how dependent you are on the people taking care of you. And you find out how much you need a patient advocate. I gained a new appreciation of the need for advocacy from the individual patient’s standpoint.”
As DCMS president, he launched Project Access, a successful 10-year program that provided medical care to Dallas’ working poor. Dr. Read also helped TMA coordinate relief efforts for physicians in the Houston area whose offices were devastated by Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Dr. Read aggressively encouraged other physicians to take leadership roles, both at their hospitals and in organized medicine, Dr. Snyder said.
“[He believed that] if you really want to make an impact for your patients, it’s not just seeing them in the clinics,” said Dr. Snyder, who called Dr. Read a mentor. “It’s helping to change the structure of a hospital or getting involved with local organized medicine. He really opened my eyes about the impact I could have as a physician-advocate.”
Dr. Read and his wife Roberta were married 50 years; they have two grown daughters and two grandchildren.