Professional advice in GI: 2 gastroenterologists on the words that helped shape their careers

Advice, whether given with careful forethought or by chance, can have a lasting impact. Two gastroenterologists share the best pieces of professional advice they have ever received.

Ask a Gastroenterologist is a weekly series of questions posed to GI physicians around the country on business and clinical issues affecting the field of gastroenterology. We invite all gastroenterologists to submit responses.

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Please submit responses to Carrie Pallardy at by Thursday, April 2, at 5 p.m. CST.

Dr. Elliot EllisElliot Ellis, MD, Modernizing Medicine Team Lead, EMA Gastroenterology: When looking back at my training in internal medicine and gastroenterology, two specific pieces of advice have made a lasting impact.

1.  "Sometimes you have to move backwards before you move forward."

I vividly remember being a first year fellow in gastroenterology at Mount Sinai Hospital of New York. While performing a colonoscopy, my attendings would often tell me "pull back to move forward." This applied, of course, to colonoscopy procedures where often pulling the scope physically back may propel it forward in the colon, but I also took this advice to apply to life. In any medical endeavor, whether at a patient level (trying to make sense of complex disease process), at a private practice level (deciding on the next steps to grow a practice) or at a business level (learning software coding to create a GI-specific EMR system), I always like to take a few steps back and assess the overall situation before pushing forward. Often I find this gets me further than just following the standard course.

2. "Never forget that this rotation is called a 'Gastroenterology Consult Service' and that is what we should provide."

Early in my training, I was taught to focus on the word "service." I was told never to forget that we as consultants are in many ways in a service industry. Our goal is to provide outstanding high quality service to our patients and our referring doctors. The qualities that are critical for any service industry (i.e. maintaining a positive attitude, responsiveness, patience, compassion, availability) are the same qualities that help us to provide better care to our patients and succeed as consulting specialists.

Dr. Larry GoodLarry Good, MD, FACG, founder, CEO Good Pharmaceutical Development, CEO, Compassionate Care Center of New York: The best professional advice I have ever received came from two mentors in medical school. One, Dr. Lewis Barnett, who was a long time family physician, who taught me physical diagnosis, helped me develop the skill of listening and the importance of physical contact with my patients. An appropriate greeting or welcoming and a gentle touch on the shoulder or hand can make all the difference in the world.

The second bit of advice came from my medical gastroenterology professor, Dr. Clarence Legerton, who taught me about perspective. He told me about a commencement address given by Dr. William Osler of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, widely thought of as the father of modern American Medicine, who introduced a commencement address by stating that: "Tuberculosis is a social disease with medical implications." Everything we encounter in medicine can be thought through in this framework. Whether it is the explosion of obesity, metabolic syndrome, industrialization of the food supply, HIV/AIDS or societal changes like Obamacare, everything we do as a physician occurs in the context of our society; wise advice 40 years ago and still true today.
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