Friday, March 16, 2007

A line runs through it: Howard P. "Hod" Lewis, 1902-1985



Today is Friday, so it must be history of medicine class--but the talk I attended today was in a different venue than the old Basic Science classrooms. Soon-to-be-chief medical resident Dr. Madison Macht delivered a lecture on Howard P. Lewis, MD--University of Oregon Medical School alumnus, faculty member, and chair of medicine from 1947 to 1972.

Titled "Large and Noble Lines," Macht's talk emphasized the threads which wove Lewis' life into the fabric of the medical school and into the larger world of American medical education. A master of the history and physicial exam, Lewis could diagnose almost anything through the art of percussion. Two of the anecdotes that made impressions on me:
  • Lewis directed his students to carry two colored pencils with them at all times, to be able to properly fill out patient charts diagramming all discernible lung sounds
  • Lewis told his students of his novel cure for falling asleep while reading: he would place the reading material on the fireplace mantel; if he happened to drift off while standing there, the mantel would break his fall and wake him back up.
Macht undertook his study of Lewis after hearing some things about him anecdotally and wondering: why have I not heard of him? A physician who simultaneously served as head of the American College of Physicians and the American Board of Internal Medicine; the man who literally wrote the book on physical examination; a man for whom no living individual seemed to have one bad thing to say. Thanks to Macht's research, a new generation of doctors can marvel at Lewis' diagnostic skills, his professionalism, his equanimity, his commitment to excellence, and his devotion to teaching.

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