Center for Global Health and Medical Diplomacy Caring Community Conference, 2010

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Good morning.  My name is Mark Workman.  I have the honor of serving as provost and vice president of academic affairs at UNF and, in that capacity, the honor to welcome you to the Fourth Annual Caring Conference sponsored by our Center for Global Health and Medical Diplomacy.  I am particularly pleased when President Delaney’s schedule requires him to shift this responsibility to me because I regard this annual conference as among the most important that UNF hosts throughout the year. 

I would like to take the liberty of reading to you a very brief news clip.  It comes from one of New York City’s now defunct news dailies.  While I don’t know the exact day of its publication, I do know it was published 72 years ago, sometime in 1938.

The caption of the article is “All but Patient Hurt in Ambulance Crash.”  It reads as follows:

“Of four persons riding in a Sydenham Hospital ambulance, the only one not injured when it was in collision with a car at Broadway and 45th St. today was the patient.  The injured were Dr. Abraham Workman, 27, possible fracture of the ribs; Charles Tracy, 26, the ambulance driver, possible fracture of the ribs; and Patrolman Joseph Engelman, 41, cuts of the lip and right leg.  The ambulance was carrying Marie Wilson, 19, who had attempted suicide in her home, to Bellevue Hospital.  Gusta Bandlos, 20, driver of the other car, who was not injured, was given a summons.”

I treasure this short article because the doctor in question was of course my father, and because my mother, who was a nurse at Sydenham Hospital at the time and did not know that my father’s ribs were broken, claims to have tickled my father’s feet as they were protruding from the stretcher when he arrived at the hospital not in his capacity as an intern but as a patient. 

After World War II, which he spent as a physician at a veteran’s mental hospital in Danville, Illinois, my father opened a general practice on what was then a very rural Staten Island, where he ushered into and out of their lives over two generations of Staten Islanders.  For as long as his time and energy permitted he made house calls for which he charged a mere $3 dollars. When my father retired in the late 70s it was after establishing a huge base of devoted and appreciative patients who, through no fault of their own, generated a blizzard of insurance forms and other financial and legal complications that he could not have anticipated when he was assigned to ambulance duty as a young intern.  Dedicated as he may have been to the well being of his patients, when my father finally left his profession its essential paradigms—both in terms of practice and theory—had passed him by.

I hasten to add that there is nothing lamentable about progress.  My father was trained in the old world, both literally and figuratively speaking, and his style of medicine surely could not have been sustained into the late twentieth century let alone into the twenty-first.  But what would be lamentable—and I say this both as my father’s son and as someone whose body has grown a year older than it was the last time I had the pleasure to extend a welcome to this gathering—would be if the values that my father brought to the care of his patients could not be sustained.  The progress that has been made in the advancement of medical understanding has been enormous, but that understanding too often has outpaced the delivery of health care in an effective and equitable manner to the citizens of the world, who if they are bound together by nothing else at the very least share a desire to live lives free of illness and the despair it too often entails.

What I find so heartening about the Center for Global Health and Medical Diplomacy is that it seems to be motivated by exactly the values that governed my father’s 40 years of practice as a physician, the difference being that the scope of the Center—to serve not just northeast Florida but the State, the region, the nation, and even the world—obviously far exceeds my father’s more circumscribed area of focus on the southern tip of Staten Island.   It is precisely because of the values at its core that I regard the work of the Center to be so vital and why I am so proud to house the center at UNF.  So permit me to extend not only my welcome to you but also my gratitude for doing the important work that you do.  I wish you a fruitful meeting.