Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Walt Reynolds: reminiscences of an African American physician

Another fascinating day here in Historical Collections & Archives, as I spent the morning at an oral history interview with Dr. Walter C. Reynolds, M.D., conducted by Dr. Ralph Crawshaw, M.D.

Regular readers of these pages might remember the name of Reynolds, after whom one of the OHSU tram cars was named back when the tramway opened in January of this year. I had also mentioned him in the context of his career as a player on the University of Oregon Medical School Medics basketball team. Today, he talked with Crawshaw about his career as a physician and his life as an African American in Portland, Oregon, once considered to be the worst city for race relations west of the Mississippi.

A modest and self-deprecating man, the 87-year-old Reynolds mentioned his father, who had only attended school through the third grade but who nevertheless had a strong commitment to education and who encouraged his children to do achieve their dreams. He talked about his older brother, who had received his master's degree in physics at the University of Washington and who always pushed Walt to do better at school when Walt wanted to concentrate on sports.

He also mentioned the high school guidance counselor who told him not to bother trying to go pre-med in college; Reynolds never talked to another counselor after that day. He talked about his anger at being denied service, at the injustices suffered by his mentor Dr. DeNorval Unthank, and at the kind of prejudice that still marks our world.

But most of all, he talked about cultural competency. For Reynolds, cultural competency begins with knowing oneself--your own background, your own prejudices, your own strengths and weaknesses. It is extended through interaction with communities: your own community, broader ethnic, racial, and religious communities, and communities across the world. He talked about the value of service work, whether in the military or the Peace Corps or a job program, work that gets young people out into communities to see how other people behave.

Reynolds stressed that this cultural competency is critical for physicians, because a good physician looks at the whole community, not just his small group of patients. I would have added that it's critical for all of us in this day and age, when genetics has shown up the fallacy of racial differences, when we all live in an increasingly global society marked by upheavals and crises that can only be surmounted by coordinated civic action.

Asked whether he thought that his acts of resistance could be called bravery, Reynolds demurred, and said only that he felt badly for those who lacked cultural competence. I feel badly for those who could not attend this morning's conversation, because we small band of listeners were certainly enriched by the experience.

1 comment:

Richard Smith said...

Spent many years enjoying Walt and Bev sitting by them at Duck football games. We used to call the plays.....mostly unsuccesfully!