Paying it Forward by Giving Back
There's no overestimating the impact of a skilled educator on an eager medical student. As academic clinicians, Deborah Tuttle, MD, MCP '82, and her husband, John Piper, MD, MCP '83, have seen firsthand how medical education and access to learning opportunities can determine the course of both physicians' and patients' lives.
Deborah Tuttle receives a crystal apple from Dean Schidlow to honor her commitment to excellence in medical education, after the installation of Valerie Weber (center) as the inaugural Tuttle-Piper Vice Dean for Educational Affairs.
"Looking back over our many years of practice, we know that our medical education is our most valuable possession. It is a privilege every day to practice medicine — it helps to define us, ground us, humble us and enrich us. It has not been a job, it has been a lifetime of learning, growth and service," says Tuttle.
"Our education at MCP prepared us well for the challenges of medicine. As students we focused on didactic and clinical work — the tasks of becoming a doctor. However, we learned many things we were not aware of — excellence, compassion, resilience, passion, teamwork, commitment and intellectual curiosity — that have made all the difference in our success. We attribute this to the strong mentors, many of them women, remarkable for their time, who were pure in their pursuit of leading by example, setting high standards for patient care and education, yet able to show the joy in their work and the human aspects of medicine.
"Dr. Dorothy Barbo, one of our mentors, often bought Chinese food for everyone on shared call nights, but no forks allowed," Tuttle says. "Mastering the use of chopsticks was a surrogate for improving manual dexterity for surgeons; but, more importantly, eating together equalized everyone, improving respect, communication and teamwork as we cared for patients."
That's why Tuttle and Piper have created the Deborah Tuttle, MD and John Piper, MD Vice Dean for Educational Affairs. As an endowed chair, the gift supports the school in perpetuity and will help enrich the lives of the next generation of physicians training at Drexel University College of Medicine. The inaugural Tuttle-Piper Vice Dean for Educational Affairs, Valerie Weber, MD, views the chair as a powerful way to continue to encourage educational innovation, re search and continuous improvement — contributions that will surely have rippling benefits for students long into the future.
Specifically, the endowment provides discretionary funding to the vice dean, who can use it to support her or his educational priorities. That might include curriculum innovation, travel grants for students or investment in new technologies.
"We know there continue to be new challenges in medicine, and education needs to continue to meet these challenges," Piper says. "Like many good things, the inspiration to support medical education came from a personal loss. Deborah's mother died of decompensated aortic stenosis, a diagnosis that was not recognized before it became critical. We decided to establish a lectureship in cardiology to support education in this area. We have seen the power of this gift through the exceptional guest lecturers Dr. Eisen [Cardiology Division chief] brings to Drexel each year. We realized we could and should do more.
"We are thrilled that Dr. Weber is the first named vice dean. Her innovative ideas and leadership in medical education are already widely recognized. We know the endowment funding will be well used, with the overall goal of strengthening meaningful and impactful education for future physicians."
For Drs. Piper and Tuttle, the practice of medicine has been not a job but a lifetime of learning.
Challenges and Rewards
Tuttle and Piper both attended medical school with the help of the U.S. Air Force through the Health Professions Scholarship Program — he at the University of Wisconsin and she at the Medical College of Pennsylvania. They met at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, at the School of Aerospace Medicine, one of the active duty commitments required by their scholarships. Piper decided to transfer to MCP to be with Tuttle.
Completing residencies and fellowships in the military, Tuttle became a neonatologist and Piper an infectious disease specialist. They served as officer physicians in the Air Force, and then joined practices affiliated with Delaware's Christiana Care Health System in Newark.
Tuttle and Piper each come from a family of educators, and as a couple they have committed their lives to patient care and educating future physicians. Tuttle's group teaches pediatric residents and neonatal fellows at Christiana Hospital, and Piper has been involved in teaching in most of the Christiana Care residency programs through his infectious disease practice.
"While we were not from physician families, the challenges and rewards of teaching were passed along to us," Tuttle says. "Students challenge you to be up to date and to prove both the what and the why of what you are teaching. They make you better. We teach every day — not only to residents and fellows, but also nurses and patients. We have also learned how rewarding it is to see the success of our former students. Being physician educators helps us to honor and continue the teaching legacy of our parents and grandparents."
Commitment to Community
In addition to their practices and teaching, Tuttle has served as the medical director of Christiana Care's Mothers' Milk Bank and the physician director for Neonatal Performance Improvement Initiatives. She and Piper have shared interest and collaboration in research in health care–associated infection and molecular epidemiology.
This latest gift is just the most recent example of their generosity toward their alma mater. In addition to the Kathryn J. and Charles B. Tuttle Lectureship Fund for Cardiology, honoring Tuttle's parents, they also created the Deborah Jane Tuttle, MD '82 and John P. Piper, MD '83 Endowed Scholarship Fund to make medical school more accessible to students.
The couple is active in other community outreach efforts. Drawing from her own experience as both Air Force officer and doctor, some of Tuttle's clinical work enables her to care for families from Dover Air Force Base. She also serves on the Advisory Council of the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware. The couple's love of dogs led them to establish a research grant at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Tuttle and Piper have been inspired by the Drexel medical students they have met at the annual Benefactors Brunch and by the technological advances on campus like the state-of-the-art Simulation Center. Also, Tuttle says, the Drexel students and residents she encounters in her practice are well prepared. "That makes me feel good and makes me want to continue to support the school," she says.
"The medical school has undergone some challenges," Tuttle says, "but really found stability as part of Drexel University. This is an exciting time for the school.We can never give back all we have been given, but are honored to have a small part in the future of medical education."
A career in medicine and caring for vulnerable patient populations is itself a way of endowing society, but this couple clearly values the concept of paying it forward.
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