Massachusetts Medical Society: Henry L. Dorkin, M.D. Presidential Acceptance Speech

Henry L. Dorkin, M.D. Presidential Acceptance Speech

President Gessner, Executive Vice President Cornell, Fellow Society Officers, Members and Staff of both my home Suffolk District and the entire Society, Family, Friends and Guests –

I thank you for your support and am honored to be the 135th President of the Massachusetts Medical Society. With recognition of the serious responsibility that goes with the title, let me assure you that the goals of the medical society, both members and staff, are also my goals: superb care for our patients, fast access to quality evaluation and treatment, reduction in the cost of medications as well as the cost of medical care in general, and support of the physician’s efforts, whether in solo practice or a large group, community or academic, rural or urban. The burdens of over-regulation, in the presence of complex and unwieldy documentation systems, absence of tort reform, and for some, an excessive education debt, are all having a negative impact not only on the health and well-being of our patients, but on that of our physicians themselves. Clearly, the status quo is not acceptable. This must change.

With your help, we will continue, and build upon, the outstanding efforts of my immediate predecessors Drs. Dennis Dimitri and Jim Gessner, in addressing each of these issues with insightfulness and alacrity.  While not minimizing the seriousness of the problems ahead, we do try to keep our sense of humor about us while dealing with these concerns.  In a lighter vein, the situation I now find myself in as President does bring to mind a comment made by the proctor of my freshman medical school histology exam. As he handed out the blue books, he said, “now don’t be uptight, don’t clutch – this is much too important!”

For those of you who are wondering what sort of President you have elected, a brief thumbnail sketch is in order. Born in Baltimore, and raised in Camden, New Jersey, I grew up where my father, Jerome R. Dorkin MD, PBK and AOA Johns Hopkins class of 1944, had returned home after military service. There, he and my mother raised a family (my younger sister Joellyn and me)  while Dad practiced medicine in an office attached to the front of our house. 

My father was the quintessential solo practitioner internist/cardiologist.  He was always available, always thinking about his patients, always making sure they never felt rushed in his office, and constantly reading/publishing papers in order to be a better doctor.  One could not have asked for a finer father or a more outstanding role model. I sought to emulate him, attending both his undergraduate and medical school alma maters, but then went in another direction, finishing a Pediatric Residency at Hopkins.  I then was very lucky that I met a Worcester native son, Dr. Richard Talamo, who, along with Dr. Beryl Rosenstein, was one of my Baltimore mentors.  A Harvard College and Boston University Medical School graduate, Dr. Talamo interested me in the medical problems of the respiratory system in infants and children. It was he who sent me up to Children’s for a Fellowship in Pulmonary Diseases and Cystic Fibrosis, and I arrived in Boston during the summer of 1977. 

My original intention was always to return south to either Philadelphia or Baltimore after two years of training, but in Boston – well, I met a girl. With me tonight and my wife of 38 years, Kathleen was a graduate of Radcliffe College in Cambridge and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I met her when she was Principal Harpist with the Opera Company of Boston. Kathy was clearly much smarter than I was (except for perhaps that one lapse when she actually agreed to marry me), and my fate was sealed.  Also with us tonight is Kathy’s father, Dr. Oscar Moreno, and his wife Terry. Saturday night the family will gather to celebrate Dr. Moreno’s 90th birthday. I must admit a certain amount of trepidation when I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. He considered this for a moment, and then said, “ …don’t be hasty – make me an offer for the whole girl.” I knew then that I was going to get along just fine with my prospective father-in-law!

Our daughter and son, Dr. Molly Dorkin and Dr. Robert Dorkin, are with us tonight as well. Both children have exceeded our greatest hopes for them and are outdistancing their parents in accomplishments, which of course is the goal of every family.  We follow their aspirations, efforts and achievements with love and pride. They, along with their mother, have been nothing but supportive of my career caring for patients in the hospital and clinic as well as my goals in academic medicine at Tufts and Harvard. All three have been tolerant of my time away from home, and unstinting in their love, for which I can never repay them.  In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must tell you that we remained in Boston in part because every time I got a generous job offer elsewhere in the country, Kathy would consider it carefully, and then ask me, if I considered taking the job, to “please write often.”  I got the message – we were staying here.

One also cannot get very far without good friends. At our table, along with his wife Ann, is Dr. Steven Sloane of Allentown, Pa. Steve and I have been inseparable since primary school in Camden, sharing hobbies and memories, and serving as Best Man at each other’s wedding. He is someone from whom I have learned much, especially how to buckle down and study.  In addition, Kathy and I were once told that the parents of our children’s school-chums would become our close friends as well; the presence tonight of Dr. and Mrs. Fred Server, and Mrs. Nancy Gordon (whose husband Mark at this moment is at 30,000 feet out over the Atlantic heading into Logan), supports that. If the test of true friendship is tolerating the foibles of others, then the fact that all of them still laugh at my terrible puns stands as confirmation.

Finally, let me close by relating to you some advice I got from my father. On my wall at home is a certificate given to Dad by the Camden County Medical Society for 50 years of service to the community.  When I embarked on a medical career, he said, “Son, wherever you settle down, get involved with your state medical society. It is the only local common voice we have, and we must all stick together for the common good.”  Over the years I have come to appreciate all that the Society has accomplished through its diligence and hard work. Much of it, like the bottom 89% of any iceberg, is not visible to the eye, but were it not for the actions of the Society it would be even more difficult to practice medicine in the Commonwealth than it is now.  While continuing to work harder for our physicians and patients, we will also try to make sure that all of you have input into how the Society regards and tackles the issues before us.   The results of what we collectively have done in the past and present, as well as what we are going to do in the future to address all of the problems I listed earlier, must, and will,  bring about change for the better.

We are charged with protecting the health and well-being of our fellow men, women and children, as well as preserving an unfettered and supportive environment in which to practice medicine, a most noble and honorable profession. This charge must be carried out successfully. However, we also have to remember something I learned in Residency – there are no points given in this world for being right if you cannot make it work.  With the help of everyone in this room, and many who are not here with us tonight, we will make it work.  Thank you.

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