Ep13 (part 1) - The Art of Patient-Physician Communication, Dr. Welton M. Gersony


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On Episode 13 of the Pursuit of Health podcast, Dr. Fethke invites his own most influential mentor, Dr. Welton M. Gersony - a pioneer and world-class Pediatric Cardiologist - to remind us all of the importance of maintaining the fundamentals of Patient-Physician Communication.
Over the past 5 decades Dr. Gersony has been one of the most influential physician leaders in American Pediatrics and, specifically, Dr. Fethke’s own field of Pediatric Cardiology. Dr. Gersony received his medical degree at the State University of NY-Upstate Medical Center, completed his General pediatric training at Western Reserve Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio and his fellowship training at The Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard Medical School.
In 1968 he founded Columbia University’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology where he served as the division chief and the Alexander Nadas Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University’s College of P&S until 2007. Several landmark medical achievements occurred under his watch at Columbia including the first successful pediatric heart transplant in 1984, and the foundation of the Pulmonary Hypertension and Adult Congenital Heart Centers.
His myriad distinguished services include being the past Chair of AHA Council of CVDY, the ABP Subboard of Cardiology and the Steering Committee of the World Congress of Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery. He is the 2003 recipient of the AHA’s Distinguished Service Award and the 2007 Founder’s Award of AAP. He has served on multiple editorial boards and was a Consulting Editor for Circulation medical journal.
He is recognized as a pioneer in our understanding of the course of congenital heart defects through his work as a Principle Investigator for the 1st and 2nd studies of the Natural History of Congenital Heart Defects. He has authored more than 300 papers and chapters as well as one of the first major textbooks dealing with Congenital Heart Disease in the Adult.
Amongst all of his successes he remains most proud of his recognition as a world-class teacher of future generations of pediatric cardiologists, having trained 120 Pediatric Cardiology fellows during his over 35 year tenure at Columbia University - consistently demonstrating an uncanny ability to know peoples’ strengths and potential even before they see it in themselves.
During part 1 of this episode, Dr. Gersony takes us through the mechanics of the all important first patient visit as he has personally demonstrated for so many of his students. He stresses that this visit lays the groundwork for the trust between a physician and patient family that is critical to the patient’s future success. He urges us to “let them tell their story” without injecting our own assumptions and biases. He explains how important it is to be aware of harmful nonverbal cues that we send patients.
He humbly advises that we never consider ourselves to be 100% infallible, but rather maintain open communication between our patients and their referring physicians. He finishes this first episode with an emphasis on maintaining Hope, even in the face of serious illness and bad news. Ultimately his message is that “Taking the time up front, saves time later”.
Next time in Part 2 of Episode 13, Dr. Fethke picks up the conversation with Dr. Gersony as he discusses how to Humanely give Bad News to a patient and family while avoiding the family’s natural feelings of Fear and Guilt.

You can follow Dr. Eric Fethke on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok @drfethkemd
(This episode will also available in video format on Youtube @drfethkemd).

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