On Sept. 22, one of the most caring, boundless, and accomplished human beings I have ever met passed away in Charleston, South Carolina. Dr. Morey Lipton was a brilliant physician, who, despite his specialty as a skilled surgeon, insisted that health was a whole patient, whole family, and whole of society affair. Officially, I was never one of his students, but much of the way I practice medicine today came from the good fortune of being around him since childhood.
1) Where health happens: When I was 7 or 8 years old, before MRIs and CT scans existed, I was sent to the hospital because of abdominal pain. As a friend of the family (in Charleston that seems to be almost everyone) Dr. Lipton offered to see me after finishing his patient rounds. He looked at my charts, quickly bent me forward to sit up and noted that I didn't wince. What he would humbly call experience and what we would think of as prescient, he knew that I had a greater chance of becoming even sicker in the hospital than I was of being cured. He risked advocating his diagnosis rather than thinking of malpractice, and said that I didn't have appendicitis or another disease needing hospitalization. He ordered that I be discharged right away and a few days later I was perfectly fine. It took decades more for the profession to take hospital-acquired infections more seriously, be responsible for the judicious use of hospitalization, and return to the understanding that health begins and ends at home.
2) Humor is medicinal: At the age of 12, I was out playing with his daughter Rachel, with whom I had a crush on at the time. I fell down, lacerated my knee, and sheepishly found myself in his office within the hour. After stitching me up, he looked me in the eyes and sternly said, "I want you to pay more attention to what you are doing and stop chasing girls, especially my daughter." Then he broke into a laugh and I felt amazingly better.
3) Follow your passion: Dr. Lipton wanted me to become a physician, but I loved working with animals. After I was accepted to veterinary school, he brought me into surgery with him, hoping I would decide to change professions before school started the next fall. To explain my presence in the surgical suite, he introduced me to his colleagues as a second-year medical student. While fascinated by the careful disassembly and reassembly of a human body, I still was not sold on the profession. But rather than being disappointed in my decision, he gave me my first stethoscope to take with me to vet school. I still use it today and tell every student I work with now to pay attention to their joy and do something they are passionate about.
4) Speak out: Tens of thousands of people have read his words. Dr. Lipton did not confine his thoughts to his patients and his letters to the editor that became a mainstay of the local newspaper. While as professionals we are corralled into "staying in our lanes," Dr. Lipton encouraged us to speak up on issues that we care about and occasionally risk changing lanes to raise awareness among others. He inspired me to strive to speak and write in ways that are authentic and transparent, and to care for people and our planet. While I can only dream to develop his breadth of skills and insights, I'm honored to realize that I probably would not be blogging on The Huffington Post today if it were not for him.