Published 1/1/2009
Frank M. Griffin, MD

“The Last Lecture”: A good way to start the new year

Get on YouTube (www.youtube.com) and watch Professor Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture.” It’s a phenomenal lecture from a dying professor about how to live your life. It reminded me of why I became a doctor.

The “Last Lecture” begins with a section about “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Being a physician has helped me achieve most of my childhood dreams. I graduated from a small school with only 25 students in my senior class. There was no one from my hometown that was a “doctor” of any kind. So, it was a far-fetched idea for me to become a physician. Becoming a doctor fulfilled one of my childhood dreams.

Another childhood dream was to participate in professional sports. Okay, by “participate,” I actually meant play, but sometimes those dreams have to be modified. I practiced basketball hours everyday for 4 years. I could shoot a basketball from 20 feet about as good as anybody. Only problem was that I couldn’t move fast enough to get open against more talented athletes. But I still made it to the National Basketball Association (NBA)…as a doctor. During my fellowship, I spent a year working with the New York Knicks. Got to go in the locker room during the games. Got to see the NBA up close. Hence, being a doctor again helped me achieve a dream.

Another childhood dream for me was to be able to take my family to Disney World. In the small town where I grew up, not many kids got to go to Disney World. I thought my dad was Superman when he loaded us up in the family station wagon to drive to Orlando one year. We were uptown. I traveled through seven states on the trip. I felt like a world traveler. I wanted to be able to do the same for my kids. We just got back from our fifth trip to Disney. Being a doctor has allowed me to prosper enough to take my family on lots of great vacations and be a good provider for my family.

In the “Last Lecture,” Professor Pausch talks about “Enabling the Dreams of Others.” He recognizes that this is more important than achieving your own dreams. Practicing good medicine allows many of us to “enable the dreams of others” on a regular basis.

Many of my patients are athletes. When I was in school, I saw an “old-school” orthopaedist who told me “if it hurts, don’t do it” as a treatment for my knee pain during basketball. He didn’t understand the athlete’s mentality. Nowadays, my athletes usually miss minimal time from their sports compared to 20 years ago.

One of my favorite patients was a young man who ran straight from the end zone after his first touchdown following surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament to find me on the sideline. He said, “Thanks, Doc” with a big smile. He played out his senior year of football just before he died in a motorcycle wreck. The surgery had allowed him to do something very important to him in his last year of life.

I occasionally see older patients with very difficult problems. Their lives are losing quality as they lose their mobility. One patient who came to me had had a total knee replacement, which was infected with Pseudomonas and fractured through the tibial tubercle. His revision total knee surgery enabled him to remain mobile through the final few years of his life with much less pain. My fellowship gave me the courage and ability to take on a case very few would touch.

Being a doctor has allowed me to enable the dreams of students. Over the years, I’ve had countless students “shadow” me in my clinic and in the operating room. Some have gone on to college and medical school. Hopefully, I played a positive role in those decisions.

In today’s environment, it’s easy to forget how lucky we are to be physicians. “The Last Lecture” might serve as a good reminder.

Frank M. Griffin, MD, is in private practice in Van Buren, Ark. This commentary originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of The Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society and is reprinted with permission.