Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop ’37 met with students in an informal “fireside chat” last night to address concerns and uncertainties about entering the medical profession.
Koop talked about the ways in which medicine has changed both positively and negatively in recent years, emphasizing the differences between the field he entered in 1941 and what medicine has evolved into today.
Most doctors were family practitioners when Koop entered medicine. By the time Bill Clinton was running for president, only 29 percent of doctors were family practitioners while 71 percent were specialists, Koop said.
Now, however, the breakdown is nearly even between family doctors and specialists. Koop also noted that gender distribution has also become more equitable in the past ten years.
“I have the greatest respect in the world for primary care doctors,” Koop said, emphasizing the importance of doctors forming lasting relationships with their patients, especially children.
“Medicine is a wonderful way to communicate with people. There’s no other profession in the world where you can go home and say to yourself, ‘Everybody I encountered today, I had the opportunity to do something good for,'” Koop said.
“There are two things that the medical profession has to learn that is impossible to teach it: flexibility and appropriateness,” Koop said. “Just because you can do an operation, doesn’t mean you should do it.”
Among other differences in medicine as it is practiced today that Koop noted were the fact that residents now earn more money but get much less sleep and the increased frequency of malpractice lawsuits.
Koop was a pediatric surgeon and in 1946 became the first person in the United States to limit his practice to children alone. He was appointed Surgeon General by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Sitting casually on the back of a chair as he spoke with a small crowd, Koop gave students advice on applying to medical schools and sought to give them a general idea about what to expect in the field of medicine.
While Koop’s chat focused on students hoping to become involved in medicine, he used an informal style and witty sense of humor to convey to students his prospective that the medical profession has changed a great deal, but is still worth pursuing.
“It is going to be tougher. Life gets tougher as things go by — there’s no question about that,” Koop said. “But I’d do it again myself if I had the opportunity.”