For years now, I’ve been trying to emulate a mentor who shaped my outlook on advocacy for medicine and our patients. Ralph Joseph Anderson, MD, was a man and a physician who meant more to the women and doctors in Texas than many know. He certainly meant more to me in my professional life than anyone else.
Cancer took him from us in August, and I wanted to share just what kind of impact he had on health care, especially women’s health care, in Texas and the nation.
Ralph was already an accomplished gynecologic oncologist and academic at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in Lubbock when he arrived in Fort Worth, ostensibly looking for a private practice opportunity with Harris Methodist (yes, before THR!). While being shown the operating room, he found obstetrics-gynecology (OBG) residents scrubbed in surgery, and he immediately asked for a meeting with their program director.
To make a long story a little shorter, he and Pelham Staples, MD, met. Dr. Staples, the founder of Fort Worth’s OBG residency, was looking to retire. They quickly agreed that not only should he establish a gynecologic oncology practice at Harris Methodist Fort Worth, but he also should take over the OBG department and residency at John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS).
I was nearing the end of my second year in OBG residency, and my peers selected me to do the talking during his “interview.” I was skeptical and asked some tough questions.
I was his second resident for the oncology service. He taught me new ways to do surgery, but mainly he taught me how to take care of each patient to the best of my ability and to find someone more able if that wasn’t enough. He instituted a shift system for the residents during my chief year, allowing all of us to see our families every day, long before this was a requirement. Visionary is a word for that kind of leadership.
Skip forward to spring 1992. I was nearing the end of my Air Force commitment, and when Ralph found out we would both be in San Francisco for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) annual meeting, he asked me out to dinner. At that dinner, he described his plan to expand the OBG program and the faculty, offering me the job of running the outlying OBG clinics. These clinics had been staffed with nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives who worked for the health departments, but he was intent on bringing them all under the JPS banner. The “no prenatal care” rate at JPS went from between 20 percent and 30 percent to under 10 percent over the next several years. This is just one of his many legacies.
When he assumed the role of chair of the Department of OBG at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Ralph renewed his passion for medical education and for guiding students to be leaders in every sense of the word.
He was forever looking for ways to help them succeed in whatever field they chose to study. He also was guiding his faculty to be the best and most up-to-date educators they could be. He pushed hard to stop “lectures” and wanted “vignettes.”
Dr. Anderson was a tireless advocate for women’s health. His leadership at the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and District VII ACOG helped get our 2003 tort reforms passed as well as many other legislative victories.
When the prospect of needing a referral for a woman to see her obstetrician-gynecologist was raised, Ralph successfully got legislation enacted to ensure that any woman could see her provider of choice for OBG services without referral. The impact he has had on OBG in Texas is hard to measure, but the example he set for all physicians needs to be remembered.
He leaves behind not only his family, but also countless students, residents, and colleagues who will miss him. I won’t be able to “get a coffee” with him again, but I will commit to continuing to advocate for our patients and our colleagues as he always did.
In closing, I’d like to remind all of you to thank your mentors while you can, as you never know when you won’t be able to.
G. Sealy Massingill, MD, is an obstetrician-gynecologist from Fort Worth.