Fruit of the Womb
Fruit of the Womb

Reflections on How I Became an Obstetrician

I will never forget the day I decided to go into obstetrics. As a senior medical student at Duke University, I went to see Dr. Stanley A. Gall in OB/GYN to request a letter of recommendation for the residency I had lined up in dermatology. My graduate research had been in herpes virus immunology, I was interested in a career in medical research, and that seemed like dermatology was the most logical career path. Dr. Gall, who had paved the way for me to collect umbilical cord blood from placentas as part of my graduate school research, looked over his glasses at me, smiled, and stated simply, “You need to go into obstetrics and gynecology.” I was taken aback, but quickly replied that I “would not make a very good surgeon.” His even more rapid response, given as the smile broadened, was that I “shouldn’t worry about that. Let’s go talk to Dr. Parker.”

Roy T. Parker, MD was an awe-inspiring figure in both stature and reputation. He had been at Duke for 30 years, was internationally recognized for his accomplishments, and had been president of The American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. He was a master surgeon, a truly gracious “southern gentleman,” and could remember the name, room number, medical history, diagnosis, surgical procedures, and specific laboratory studies on every patient he had ever taken care of, or so it seemed, and we were convinced. He instilled confidence in all his patients by his demeanor, dedication, thoroughness, concern, and respect for them as individuals.

Dr. Parker talked for a few minutes with Dr. Gall behind closed doors and then I was ushered into the room and invited to occupy the comfortable arm chair across from his desk as Dr. Gall quietly exited. Through the open office windows behind his desk, I could glimpse the beautiful Sarah P. Duke Gardens in which I had spent many hours as an undergraduate, basking in the sun while studying for exams. The fragrance of the fall foliage drifted in through the window added an intoxicating accent to the musky odor of the historical books lining the bookshelves in the office. I was somewhat intimidated, but my heart was also racing with an unexpected sense of anticipation. We chatted awhile about my research, my community work directing a local clinic that was run by the medical students, and about the years I had spent, even during medical school, singing in the Duke chapel choir. Dr. Parker then leaned forward, looked me straight in the eye, and in his richest southern drawl invited me to become part of his residency program. “Ken, obstetrics and gynecology (he pronounced the gyn as “gin”) needs people like you, and with your research interests and leadership skills, there’s a place for you here….” That is all I heard or can remember hearing. He had me before he had finished the sentence, and before that afternoon was over, I had abandoned dermatology and signed up to be a resident in OB/GYN.

Truth in fact, I had loved obstetrics as a medical student. Labor and delivery units at major medical centers can be as exciting, chaotic, and frightening as any emergency room and Duke’s was no exception. But, I had felt more comfortable there than on any of the other clinical rotations, and was fascinated by the diversity of experiences, surgical, medical, and interpersonal, that were offered by the time spent in that single environment. I was impressed with the resilience of pregnant women, thrived on the appreciation they had for my efforts, and felt privileged to be a part of this sentinel life experience. I entered the residency with enthusiasm and that feeling has never waned.

My love of obstetrics led me to sign on for another few years of training in maternal-fetal medicine. At the time this was a relatively new subspecialty and no one really knew what the role of the MFM practitioner might eventually be in the larger scheme of things. But they were also exciting times and, with the concurrent advances in ultrasound technology, many of us found a niche to justify our existence. Finally, with the fellowship under my belt, and having been a “student” for 29 years’ of my life, there was nothing left to do but “cut the cord” and face the real world on a daily basis.

Over the past 20-odd years, I have had positions at several major medical centers, directed “Regional Perinatal Programs,” taught residents and medical students, worked with dedicated nurses, practitioners and midwives, had the great pleasure of caring for 10’s of thousands of pregnant women.

So now you know a little bit about me. With all that said and done, my goals for this site are fairly straightforward. I would like to provide you with accurate information related to normal and complicated pregnancies. As I tell all my patients, NO question is insignificant, although you may be surprised that the answer is often much more complicated than the question itself. Where the facts are known, and well-established, mainstream information will be provided. When the issues are more controversial, or do not have widely agreed upon answers, I will make an honest attempt to provide unbiased information, presenting the various opinions on “both sides of the fence,” reserving the right in the end to tell you where I stand on the issue and why. I look forward to beginning a dialog with you on this blog. And, above all I would like us to have some fun as we exchange experiences and communications over time.
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