Profile: A Heart for the Elderly and Underserved: J. Kenneth Brubaker, MD, HU ’70, CMD
By Nancy West
J. Kenneth Brubaker, MD, HU ’70, CMD, lives on the same dairy farm in the green rolling hills of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he grew up. After graduating from Hahnemann University, he decided to return to his hometown of Mount Joy to practice medicine because he knew it was an underserved area.
After completing his residency in family medicine at Lancaster General Hospital, he started a group family medicine practice that quickly grew from three to 10 health practitioners. His practice often received calls from three local nursing homes that needed physicians to provide routine and emergent care for their residents. No one in the practice was particularly interested in geriatrics, but Brubaker decided to take it on and quickly discovered that taking care of elderly patients was his passion. Now, more than 50 years later, he is a nationally renowned geriatrician who is still involved in enhancing care for seniors.
CHOOSING A PATH
“My fellow alumni and I were all very fortunate to have had the chance to attend medical school. Now we have the chance to give back and help promising students to pursue the same kind of rewarding careers that we have enjoyed.”
Brubaker decided to pursue a career in medicine while he was a chemistry major at Goshen College in Elkhart, Indiana. He chose to attend Hahnemann, where he was offered a scholarship, and recalls having “a really great education experience there.”
“When I moved on to residency and fellowship programs, I felt I could compete with anyone,” he says. While his initial goal in medical school was to practice psychiatry, he found that he enjoyed obstetrics, pediatrics and adult medicine more and decided to pursue family medicine instead.
Later, his frequent care for nursing home residents stoked his interest in geriatrics and he decided to take a sabbatical from his group practice to complete a fellowship in geriatrics at the former Philadelphia Geriatric Center. “I found it amazing how much you could do to help older people and, after returning to my practice, I pursued many opportunities to enhance the care they receive, especially in nursing homes.”
MEETING THE NEED FOR GERIATRIC EDUCATION
In 2000, Brubaker left private practice to initiate a geriatric fellowship training program at Lancaster General Health System, now one of the largest in Pennsylvania. He considers this one of his major career achievements. “I know the need is really great to help families and relatives to deal with cognitive impairment, because we all are affected in some way with family members, friends and neighbors who are experiencing memory loss. Having the opportunity to improve care in my community gives me a great sense of satisfaction.”
While running the fellowship program, Brubaker also continued caring for patients at the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, a large retirement community with 2,000 residents. In collaboration with the Masonic Village, he developed a tool for determining a person’s capacity to make decisions in the face of memory loss.
Dr. Brubaker with Sheena Amin, MD ’21, and Pamela K. Brubaker, RN, BSN, MSW, at the 2018 Benefactors Jazz Brunch.
“This is so important, because a person can have moderate memory loss but still be able to make decisions, and we need to respect that,” he says. “Our decision-making tool assesses the person’s ability in four key areas: understanding the problem, understanding possible treatment approaches, making choices and using solid reasoning while making choices.”
Since retiring from the fellowship program nearly 10 years ago, Brubaker has continued working with the Masonic Village and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging part time as chief medical director.
“There’s such a great need for more physicians in geriatrics!” he emphasizes. “The population group with the most rapid growth is now age 85 and older. People in this age group have a 40 to 50% chance of experiencing cognitive impairment. Some in that group will probably, at some point in time, have behavioral issues as well. Most doctors and nurses have little or no training in how to deal with people who are disruptive and physically combative, and that’s an educational need for all people who connect with people with dementia.
“We focus our education efforts on addressing the unmet needs of those with dementia,” Brubaker continues. “They could be hungry, in pain or upset because they don’t know where they are. We try to help them by focusing on what they were passionate about when they were younger, such as music or art, and we try to develop an experience in their home or long-term care setting that meets their needs in that area. I can tell you stories of people who were no longer talking at all and, when we played music they enjoyed in their youth, they started singing and dancing and talking. We also talk to them about their childhood memories, which are deeply embedded in the brain — these are the memories that last the longest.”
GIVING BACK AND ENCOURAGING STUDENTS TO PURSUE GERIATRICS
In addition to caring for the elderly, Brubaker is passionate about giving back to help young physicians in training. He and his wife, Pamela K. Brubaker, RN, BSN, MSW, have translated their shared passion into philanthropy aimed at encouraging the education of more physicians in the field. The J. Kenneth Brubaker, MD Endowed Scholarship Fund provides scholarship aid to promising but economically disadvantaged Drexel medical students whose career choice is family practice, ideally geriatrics. “My fellow alumni and I were all very fortunate to have had the chance to attend medical school,” says Brubaker. “Now we have the chance to give back and help promising students to pursue the same kind of rewarding careers that we have enjoyed.”
Working with Drexel planned-giving experts, Brubaker designed a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) for his scholarship fund that offers several benefits: Donors can take a charitable deduction while supporting an institution they believe in, and yet for those who may need it, the law allows the money to generate an income stream for the donor while it is in the fund. Brubaker acknowledges an additional benefit made possible by the Schleyer Family Matching Gift Challenge for Scholarships in Medicine. For 10 years starting in 2011, the Schleyer program offered matching funds for scholarships created to support students who plan to go into primary care. Brubaker also continues to give back to his profession and the community by serving as treasurer and board member of the AMDA Foundation for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine. He also serves on the Lancaster General Health Foundation board.
“Albert Schweitzer said, ‘Example is not the most important thing in influencing others, it is the only thing,’” Brubaker recalls. “That’s my motto. If I can encourage fellow alumni to give back to the College and help our young medical students, then I hope I’ve been a good example.”
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