National Heart month and prepping for the upcoming ACC Scientific Sessions has me reflecting lately on mentorship and the gifts we bring to caregiving, and I’ve thought a lot about those who have come before us – those who have left a legacy with impact. One of the people who has come to mind for me is Dr. Walter Floyd, a longtime Duke cardiologist who retired nearly two decades ago and who died last fall.
Dr. Floyd was known not only as a skilled clinician – he was certainly that – but he was very well known and much beloved for being a gentleman who embodied empathy and compassion with his patients. Many of his patients stayed in touch with him for many years after his retirement – a fact uncovered by his family after his death when they discovered stacks of letters that he had saved.
He trained some of the finest physicians Duke has produced, including former division chief Gary Stiles, Tom Bashore, and many other current faculty members and past fellows / DUCCS members. In 1992, Dr. Floyd’s many friends, former students, and patients together established the Walter L. Floyd Fellowship in Cardiology which ensures that many more fellows will continue to benefit from his legacy – one that is truly special to us at Duke Heart in that it embodies the underlying spirit of humanity that drove Floyd as a caregiver. The Floyd Fellow in cardiology is voted by their peers each year as the fellow that best represents Dr. Floyd – finest clinical fellow with humanism and patient centered values. The plaque with all the named Floyd fellows is in the 7th floor hall and seen above.
Dr. Stiles once said of Floyd, “He is a warm human being who gives the best patient care and the best patient interaction of anyone I’ve seen at Duke.” Floyd’s deep compassion for patients led to his teaching motto that, “physicians don’t treat diseases, they treat patients.”
Floyd felt the relationship between clinicians and their patients to be critical to the future of medicine – developing a level of intimacy that allowed for getting to know your patient as an individual and not just focusing on the technical aspects of what is happening in their bodies.
We are very data driven as clinicians and researchers, so of course the numbers and the technological improvements in treatment are important. But Floyd, as a lifelong teacher, realized that this very technology can make it harder for residents and fellows to learn how to be compassionate and caring physicians. He was concerned that humanistic aspects would be set aside – that the focus would be test results and treatment options rather than compassionate understanding of how the illness was impacting this particular individual and his/her particular family members.
Let’s strive to build the type of relationships that Dr. Floyd espoused both with his patients and the students he mentored. His legacy lives on through all the clinicians who benefited from his direct teachings.