What to Expect: Rick Flinders, MD, mentored by the late G. Gayle Stephens, to be 24th Stephens Lecturer.

Rick Flinders MD, Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency
Rick Flinders MD, Santa Rosa Family Medicine Residency

The 24th G. Gayle Stephens Lecture will be presented by Doctor Richard E. (Rick) Flinders of Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa (California). The Lecture will take place at the 25th National Conference on Primary Health Care Access, which will be held April 14-16, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco.

The 24th Stephen Lecture will be followed by a plenary session memorializing Doctor Stephens, who died on February 21, 2014.

Doctor Flinders, who had interviewed him several times in recent months as part of a Living History project, had worked with Gayle in the preparations for his upcoming Stephens Lecture.

He made the following comments as he prepared to join Doctor Stephens’ family at the funeral in Birmingham, Alabama:

Doctor Gayle Stephens, kissing his wife E. J.on the proch of their home in Dillon, Colorado
Doctor Gayle Stephens, kissing his wife E. J.on the proch of their home in Dillon, Colorado

George Gayle Stephens was more than a great physician, he was a great man. A once-in-a-lifetime generational leader who shaped a specialty and who, in my mind, had more influence on the social reform of medicine than any other individual of our time.

He was a lifelong scholar, writer, orator, philosopher, theologian and teacher. He was also my friend.

I got to meet him twice. The first time was in 1987, when he spent two days in our residency program as Visiting Professor. That visit shaped me as a family physician and teacher.

The second time was in July of last year, when he agreed to be interviewed, as part of a fellowship I’d been granted by the Academy’s Center for the History of Family Medicine.

That visit has shaped me in a different way, and has left an indelible impression on my understanding of medicine and of life.

We met at his home in Dillon Colorado, at 9000 feet in the Rocky Mountains, seven miles from Keystone. We arranged to meet for two hours, between breakfast and his obligatory afternoon nap.

He talked for six hours. (Concluding at Pug Ryan’s Pub, over French Onion soup and a locally brewed Porter.) He was sharp, lucid, buoyant and impassioned.

I got the impression he believed his remaining time was short. He told me he still missed practice, he still had hope for the future of family medicine and where he felt the political energy of our specialty lies. He talked of growing up in his tiny home town on the shore of the Mississippi River “deep in Mark Twain country”, where he played, fished, milked cows and there was no high school.

He talked of his father, why he went into medicine, his early education and his life changing encounters with Michael Balint and a certain Professor of Psychiatry from Northwestern University. He talked about the Medicare debate, the Williard Report and the Affordable Care Act.

He challenged me to ask interesting questions: OK, What ten books would you put on the reading list of all PREMED students? Where did you come up with the parable of The Big Red Bull? Have you ever considered convening a “Keystone Four”?

When we parted he made it clear that the interview wasn’t over, that it had only just gotten started. And for the past year, I became the undeserving but fortunate beneficiary of his sense of urgency through an e-mail correspondence that included many reflections from the last year of his life.