Doctor Terry Bennett
became the focus of national attention two years ago when he brusquely told an
overweight patient that she was fat, warning that unless she changed her
lifestyle she faced serious healthcare problems. The woman complained to the state Medical Board. Last year, the New Hampshire physician fought off the attempt to punish him. The
experience convinced Bennett that the practice of medicine in America must change.
Like many physicians he
believes that doctors are treated unfairly and that the healthcare system is on
the verge of collapse. He argues that
out-of-control HMOs, high malpractice rates and the financial burden of earning
a medical education are ruining the practice of medicine, creating a generation of
young doctors that has forgotten what makes a doctor a doctor.
Instead of sitting in
his office in Rochester, New Hampshire and watching it happen, Dr.
Bennett has decided to do something about it by nominating himself for one of the highest profile jobs in
medicine. He recently launched a "write-in" campaign to interview for the Dean’s
job at Harvard Medical School, generally considered the cultural heart of
the medical profession in America. What follows is his open letter to the Harvard
search committee requesting an interview. For the record, THCB neither
endorses nor opposes his candidacy. We
believe, however, that the views Dr. Bennett expresses are important and worthy of very careful
examination. He also turns out to be a gifted writer, which makes this piece a very compelling read. An insider at Harvard Medical School who must remain anonymous calls Dr. Bennett’s letter "one of the most beautiful pieces of writing on medicine I have ever read." I fully agree. — John Irvine
To the search committeeHarvard Medical School
I would not press for the job of Dean of Harvard Medical School, at my age, and at my station in life, if I did not think the Dean’s job did not need a rethink, a change from, an inarguably good man, the present Dean and most of his predecessors, to a zealot, of sorts, with a considered and announced, very public, totally non-secret, pro patient anti "money only" agenda, one which will change the life/lives of the man/people on the streets of America, and by extension, the world.
Humor me a little:
Ask the first one hundred people you meet on the streets of Boston if they know the name of the present Dean of Harvard Medical School, or what, if anything, has he stood for, while he has been Dean, and how has his tenure positively impacted/affected their lives and those of their families?
What has the Dean of Harvard Medical School caused in the way of useful change in their lives? What has he changed, for the better, or at all?
I will be surprised if one person in one hundred knows his name, or thinks his existence in any way affects their lives, and so will you.
It is my belief that so much has changed for the worse in American Medicine, that the HMS Dean’s name should be a byword, his/her positions clearly known, and the positions inarguably pro bono publicum, as he/she struggles publicly to change the status quo, tries get the 45 million uninsured into a universal healthcare program of some kind or another, tries publicly to get US drug prices within the reach of patients, tries to get American community hospitals to return to full and fully charitable services offered to their communities, and vows to be producing debt free zealot "gonna go out and change the world" physicians from HMS to go out and effect the necessary change(s), before all is lost, forever.
What is my own track record, and why should it commend itself to you? To HMS? i.e. Why do I think you should choose me, a doer, not a talker, nor a quiet Academic?
1. I figured out how to "work my way" though HMS, so as to avoid debt, keeping my dreams of adventure alive, in so doing. I sold blood and semen, then ran a used car lot out of the Vanderbilt Hall parking lot, borrowed only $2800, total, and, thus, preserved my dreams of adventure. The preservation of low debt/no debt status cost me any chance of finishing in the top of my class, but facilitated the furtherance of my dreams, my own "go out and change the world" plans. There was nothing simple nor easy about it.
2. A choice had to be made, big debt, and totally dead dreams, or small debt, and dreams neverending. Next, as part of my plan for adventure/dream facilitation, I arranged my training at LACGH, and my during Residency moonlighting jobs at "battlefront ERs", so as to be prepared to meet anything, anywhere, anytime, and never be unprepared/terrified again. You have no idea how many dead people I carry with me, as I travel through this life, and of what I learned/had to learn therefrom, about disaster prevention and critical timing, while trying so desperately to stay the clock and save them, then. Some I did save.
3. Some I could not. The dead ,and the lessons they taught me, I carry still.
4. I then took my Harvard education and my LACGH, Pasadena Police Dept Ambulance Doc, Bon Air Hospital in Watts, battlefield training first to the Peace Corps, which was difficult enough, and then to some of the most difficult places imaginable, where i delivered solace and care without any loss of quality, going, defiantly, to prison, 7 times, in 5 years, ( overnight stays, then released again, as some Prince or some Bin Ladin or some other well placed patient intervened)I went voluntarily, to prevent a truly evil landlord from evicting me from my clinic, while working in Saudi Arabia, so as to be able to continue to deliver care by my own standards, to all comers. Show me another Western physician who ever got a private license there, and you will begin to see what I have gone through and made happen.
5. Upon my return I worked walkin clinics, prisons and insane asylums, precisely because I believed ( and still do believe) that the indwellers and uninsured people living near or in such places suffered from substandard/zerostandard care. Their care is marginal even now.
6. I have been in Rochester, NH,for 18 years, now, running a walk in clinic, where we accept all comers, insured, uninsured, unbathed, penniless, and treat them all the same, to the best standards I can reach, and get them seen by the best specialists, by begging on their behalf, when necessary. It is for that reason that you have in the file a single letter of recommendation with over 100 signatures on it .They call themselves "the Havenots". They call me the "Havenot from Harvard".
7. Part of the continuous pursuit of excellence, is to refuse to set any artificial boundaries about access to your knowledge, or your person. In my view a "complete physician" may not have preset notions of who may or may not be let into their presence.
8. Some of the most extraordinary experiences of my life as a physician have occurred while taking care of the destitute, the marginalized.
9. In addition to the clinic, I worked prisons…see attached story "Prendergast", and I demanded decent care for the inmates.
10. I have not won each battle I chose to fight, no one can. Bet that nobody who was on my side, or the other side ever forgot the battle, though. I have somewhere around 1 million patient visits behind me now. For 43 years I have done my work, and done it with as much love and respect as I could muster.
I never set limits, except time, for anyone of any origin, any means or lack thereof, to gain access to me/my services.
I never cared about money.
I did care immensely about quality of care, and about being a complete physician to my patients, which is why, at age 68, I still have over 10,000 active charts.
I could go on, but my CV speaks for itself, as do the letters written on my behalf. So does my 1991 multimillion dollar donation to HMS and HSPH so that the indebtedness of young doctors at Harvard would cease ( It has Not)
If I am interviewed, as a serious Deanship candidate, I will speak to the issues I feel most pressing. I look forward to it. Conversely, if I am not interviewed, that, too, will speak volumes.