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The Pennington Lectures

50 Years of Ventures, Victories & Lessons Learned

Robert Taylor, MDFind your mighty purpose.

That was one of the challenges issued by Robert Taylor, MD, professor emeritus, during his lecture 50 Years of Ventures, Victories and Lessons Learned. Taylor was the keynote speaker for the 17th Annual Merle Pennington, MD, Lectures in Family Medicine held Sept. 6 at the Center for Health & Healing.

“Always have a life focus that is greater than yourself,” Taylor said. “Always ask yourself what your mighty purpose is. From a professional perspective, mine is, ‘I’d like to leave the house of medicine a better place than I found it.’”

Taylor joined OHSU Family Medicine in 1978 and served as department chair from 1984-1998. He retired in 2012.

“I’m one of the elders here,” he said. “I’m probably one of the eldest people here. That makes me one of the reservoirs of oral history.” 

Taylor told a series of “campfire stories” that covered both the growth of family medicine as a discipline and as a department. According to the oral history Taylor inherited from Laurel Case, MD, one of the department’s founders, the department started with two “truly inexperienced” faculty members, two residents and no patients.

“But somehow, against all odds, we survived,” Taylor said. “We’ve gone from two faculty members to 93. How did we get from there to here?”

The answers, Taylor said, are as follows:
  • Stable leadership. The department has had three chairs in 42 years.
  • Culture of responsibility, support and collective pride.
  • Transparency. The department’s finances and visit totals are shared with all staff, and there is open communication.

In his role as elder statesman, Taylor quoted Isaac Newton, “If I see further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” as he addressed the younger physicians and medical students in the audience.

“Patients will tell you stories they haven’t told their mothers,” he said. “They will let you look at their bodies. It’s because they trust you. Not because of anything you’ve done, but because of those who came before you.” 

The respect physicians enjoy has been handed down generationally and comes with responsibilities. “Medicine is about helping people; it’s not about you,” Taylor said. “It’s not about you, your career or your life choices. If you want to get rich, don’t be a physician. You’re here to help people.” 

All physicians have a responsibility to mentor students and residents as they themselves were mentored. “Teaching students and residents is a sacred trust,” Taylor explained. “We have a duty to mentor those who will replace us. You own a debt to teach the next generation. … We are here in a medical school because we teach students to be physicians. …When you’re asked to teach students, please put your hands up and do it.”