Category: Health Magazine

Title:Grand Rounds Revisited: Reflections on medicine with Harry Jaffe (M’71, R’72)

Author: Interview by Melissa Maday
Date Published: June 16, 2016

harry jaffe

“Being a doctor is our family business. My dad, Daniel Jaffe, went to medical school at George Washington University, then taught medicine at Georgetown for many years. I graduated from Georgetown in ’71, my brother Mark in ’79, and my nephew Robert in 2010.”

“I founded my practice here in Evanston, Illinois, on July 1, 1976, so I will celebrate my 40th anniversary this year.”

“I’m just a workaday primary care doctor.”

“When I arrived, Northwestern University was just putting together a department of general internal medicine, and so I was an original member. I teach at Evanston Hospital. I’ve been teaching students, interns, and residents since 1976.”

“I love teaching. The students work so hard to get into medical school and so hard to get through it. There is nothing better than seeing one of your students become a good doctor.”

“I do attending rounds, and a few years ago, on the first day of the rotation, I was on my way to meet my team and ended up walking behind two interns and a resident. One asked ‘Who is our attending?’ and his colleague replied, ‘Some guy named Jaffe.’ The first asked ‘Is he any good?’ and his friend replied, ‘I’ll let you know.’ As a teaching physician, you’re only as good as your last class. You’d better be on your toes.”

“Medical education is tutorial—you learn it from the person above you. That hasn’t changed. Of course, technology has changed: it’s easier to know your diagnosis when you can punch it up on a handheld device instead of memorizing it, like we had to do.”

“I’ve probably done more good for more people by teaching— by helping to produce good doctors—than I have by seeing patients over the years. The reach of teaching and training doctors is exponential.”

“I think the number one thing that has changed is the limited work hours. We never had any restrictions.”

“It’s harder for students today to be proficient at physical exams: there are so many layers (people, technology, protocol) between them and the patients. With shorter hospital stays, it’s harder for us to teach physical findings and physical diagnosis. When the patients were in the hospital longer, you had much better access for ongoing physical examination—a wonderful teaching tool.”

“Today, you get through medical school, an internship, residency—and then when you practice, you’re not an independent professional. You’re an employee. The psychology is completely different than it used to be.”

“It used to be said that physician practices were really hundreds of thousands of cottage industries. Back then, a big group practice was four people. Now, corporate and institutional entities employ thousands.”

“I loved Georgetown. I spent four years with terrific classmates: we were all in it together. I did my residency there, too—a wonderful experience but it wasn’t easy. I remember the schedule of working 36 hours on and 12 hours off.”

“With the Jesuits, Georgetown’s medical school was about producing doctors for the community. That was their goal, and they did it. The worst thing you can say to a Jesuit is you gave me a bad education—and, in the Jesuit tradition, Georgetown is focused on great education.”

“What would my classmates be surprised to learn? That I finally developed a sense of humor once our surgical rotation was over.”

“In the dual role of physician-teacher, it’s a constant challenge. To teach students to be good doctors, and take care of patients while you teach: those are two important and distinct roles.”

“It’s so rewarding when you can look at yourself in the mirror every morning and know that you’re doing good work in the world.”