The inspiring career of a mentor, leader, role model, physician and teacher
On Friday evening, May 11, James B. Reuler, MD R '76, MACP, was awarded the 2012 Dean's Award to a standing ovation. The Dean's Award, given out at the School of Medicine's annual Alumni Association Awards Banquet, recognizes exceptional service to the School of Medicine through an individual's volunteerism, teaching and/or philanthropic support.
Dr. Reuler is a Staff Physician, Section of General Medicine, at the Portland VA Medical Center with a dual appointment in the School of Medicine, where he has been on the faculty for 36 years.
But this Professor of Medicine, much beloved by students, is perhaps best known as the founder of The Wallace Medical Concern, where he currently serves as Volunteer Medical Director. Through volunteer providers, the Wallace Medical Concern provides free health care to the homeless, under- and uninsured and other underserved populations through several community clinics located in Portland and Gresham.
"Jim has had a profound and positive impact on thousands," said Dean Mark Richardson. "The health care providers he's mentored are now extending their own circle of care and compassion to others, and it's rippling out."
Before the Wallace Medical Concern, the safety net system in Portland was much smaller and much less organized; many patients relied on local emergency rooms for care. Dr. Reuler saw the need, but the idea only got traction when a patient of Dr. Reuler's, an older gentleman named Edwin Wallace, left Dr. Reuler $1,000 in his will. Dr. Reuler, who was already volunteering with the Salvation Army giving free medical care to the homeless, saved the money. In 1984, he used it to open The Wallace Medical Concern in Portland with the help of a nurse and a donated hotel room.
Today, Wallace has more than 300 volunteer health care providers – many of whom are School of Medicine faculty, staff and students – and several locations throughout the Portland Metro area. The organization served over 4,300 patients last year and expects to serve 6,000 patients by the end of this year.
"He created this volunteer health care organization that not only shows compassion and provides medical care to those most vulnerable, but also serves as a model on how to mentor health care providers at the same time," said Maureen Wright, MD '87 R '90, Associate Regional Medical Director for Quality Systems with Northwest Permanente, PC, who also chairs the Wallace Board of Directors and volunteers as a physician there. "He is a perfect physician and leader role model."
Dr. Wright first met Dr. Reuler when she was third-year medical student on rotation in the VA. During those rotations, she said, Dr. Reuler taught her how to be compassionate with all patients, in particular the ones struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and who weren't always compliant. "He gave us medical students from the hill exposure to a different community, another world where the most vulnerable often fall through the cracks. It inspired a lifelong commitment to that community from many of us."
As a clinician-teacher, Dr. Reuler's sense of social justice and dedication to years-long mentorship and encouragement of young physicians and physicians-to-be—in particular underrepresented minorities— permeates all his educational responsibilities.
"He's inspired an entire generation of students, supporting student efforts to take those extra steps to help the underserved, and be activists for the change they want to see in the system," said Richard Bruno, a current third-year medical student. "He always has a smile on his face and a kind word to say. He is the type of doctor I would want for myself and my family, and we are incredibly lucky to have him on campus. He is truly a leader."
Third-year medical student Jason Bahk met Dr. Reuler at a conference. "I couldn't have had a better teacher to guide me through the conference," he said. "He is warm-hearted and makes the welfare of patients, medical students and even premeds a top priority. He really went out of his way to introduce me to leaders in medicine. Dr. Reuler not only validated my desire to go into medicine but has piqued my interest in internal medicine."
Dr. Reuler readily mentors and encourages middle and high school students, says Leslie Garcia, M.P.A., Vice Provost for Diversity and Director of the OHSU Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. "He always makes himself available for shadowing opportunities and keeps in touch with many of these students for years," she said. "He has a big heart, and he's always willing to extend a hand to our diversity efforts."
Dr. Reuler is retiring this year, and recently he drafted personal farewell letters to each of his patients. He sobbed, he said, as he wrote them at his kitchen table. "The connection with each patient and family, some spanning decades, brought forth memories of the gamut of human experiences: loss of a spouse or function; incarceration of a son or murder of a grandchild; success at kicking a bad habit or finding new love online; angst, grief, remorse, exhilaration," Dr. Reuler recalled in his acceptance remarks at the awards banquet. "Patients became friends with whom I shared their lives. What line of daily work could be more fulfilling, inspiring and humbling?"
Pictured: Dr. Reuler