Imagine studying, training and eventually teaching at the same institution during the span of your career. A special group of physicians, faculty members and researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have had this unique experience.
Dr. Theodore Rosen, professor of dermatology at Baylor and chief of dermatology at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, tells us how training and working at Baylor has impacted his life and career.
Q: Did you always know you wanted to study medicine?
A: I was always interested in the healing arts. As a child, I distinctly remember that my favorite toy was called “The Invisible Man.” It was a miniature plastic man, about a foot tall, containing molded parts shaped like internal organs. I would disassemble and re-assemble that figure endlessly. I also remember building a working model of the human eye when I was 14. Alas, I didn’t end up in ophthalmology!
Q: When did your journey with Baylor College of Medicine start?
A: In the old days, before “The Match,” applicants for post-graduate training secured interviews by requesting them on an individual basis, and then were offered positions. I interviewed widely for a dermatology residency in 1974, but limited myself geographically to relatively warm locations. I visited Houston and was dutifully impressed with the lovely weather; it certainly surpassed cold and snowy Ann Arbor, Mich., where I was attending medical school.
The then chairman of dermatology at Baylor, Dr. John Knox, had trained at the University of Michigan and was eager to land a good student from his alma mater. Interestingly, the then dermatology department chair at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Clayton Wheeler, was also a Michigan alumnus. The two gentlemen kept calling, almost daily, to try and get my commitment to train with them.
It was a friendly competition. As it turned out, I chose Baylor for my dermatology training. In an ironic twist, 25 years later, my identical twin daughters both attended the University of North Carolina as undergraduates. After completing my residency, I served as a junior faculty member at the newly opened University of Texas Medical School at Houston for four years before being recruited back to Baylor to assume the role of chief of dermatology at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. I have been on the Baylor faculty since 1982.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
A: I suppose the most valuable lesson, paraphrasing a song made famous by Tim McGraw, is to always be humble and kind. Maintain humility about your accomplishments by recognizing those who made them possible. Maintain kindness to patients, colleagues, neighbors, friends and relatives. It always pays dividends, often in ways one would never, ever imagine.
Q: If you could do something differently, what would it be?
A: I would have taken a few post-doctoral years to do basic research at the NIH or a similar institution. While I have done clinical research, I think I might have enjoyed incorporating bench research into my professional career. However, never having been adequately trained to do this, I felt uncomfortable in the lab and never pursued this avenue.
Q: What advice do you have for a budding scientist or health professional?
A: This one is easy! Find a single subject about which you are passionate. Become a local, state, regional, national or even international expert in that subject. Be a resource to your community. Give, not only excellent care, but expert care. And be sure to share your expertise. Teach others what you know, what you don’t know and what needs to be known about your area of interest. That’s how progress happens.
Q: How has sticking with Baylor programs and ultimately becoming a faculty member impacted your life and career?
A: I feel blessed to have had a career where I was able to touch the lives of so many. Along the road, I’ve cared for many complex patients referred to the medical center. It has been a pleasure to – even in dermatology – save some lives, and almost always improve quality of life. My dermatology department chair recognized that I was interested in infectious diseases so he generously allowed me to spend several months in Panama studying tropical infections.
As a faculty member, I have also been lucky enough to be invited to speak at over 100 other medical institutions. I have interacted with colleagues from Dubai to Hong Kong, from Argentina to Sweden. Being known in my field has also facilitated serving in leadership roles in local, state, and national dermatological organizations. Every time I do so, I universally remember that I am representing Baylor College of Medicine. That inspires me to always do the best I can!