News - When Conversation Fuels a Movement

When Conversation Fuels a Movement

By Carla Morris

It’s hard to predict a conversation’s path when the talk takes place between professionals steeped in a common enterprise and passionate about their work. Still, Gayle Stephens ’48, a founder of the Family Medicine Movement, suspected something good would come of a conversation he initiated more than 30 years ago. He was right.

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In 1984, the family physician, writer, thinker and teacher brought together personal friends and others from diverse backgrounds to talk about family medicine. They shared ideas and identified challenges and opportunities that warranted the attention of family physicians and medicine as a profession. Known as The Keystone Conference, the dialogue proved so productive that follow up conferences ensued. The third Keystone Conference inspired the Future of Family Medicine project, the roadmap for family medicine through the early years of the 21st century.

Though Gayle passed away last year, the conversation continues. In 2014, the American Board of Family Medicine Foundation established “The G. Gayle Stephens Keystone Conference Series.” It commemorates Gayle’s stature as a pioneer in family medicine and a founder of the Foundation.

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As a college student, Gayle found GC’s strong tradition in the sciences and the arts invaluable. It broadened his mind and equipped him for future conversations. In time, he would help audiences at home and abroad see how medical practice relates to history, philosophy, religion, psychiatry, the family, the community and the sciences. In time, he would also win agreement. Family medicine is now the largest specialty in medicine. 

Ever a fierce advocate for family medicine, Gayle called it a counter-culture within medicine. He described it as a movement manifested in personal relationships. “My hope,” he once said, “is that we can find leaders who are willing to rethink the priorities of medical education on the basis of medical needs of the public rather than on the basis of preserving the professional self-interest of organized medicine.” 

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He saw family doctors as agents of change: “Our ‘expert’ institutions and organizations have exposed themselves to be bastions of resistance, self-interest, and exploiters of the public purse. More than anything else, they resemble the medieval clergy in maintaining their death-grip on privilege, power and self-aggrandizement.”

Gayle is from a family of physicians whose undergraduate work at GC helped prepare them for medical school and leadership roles in medicine. They include Gayle’s brother Charles ’54, Charles’ sons Marc ’79 and Todd ’85, and Gayle’s nephew Kendell ’80. Gayle’s son, Kenneth, is also a family physician.

Learn more about preparing for careers in medicine at GC:

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GC students realize a 90 percent admittance rate to medical schools. Click here to extend that tradition with a gift to The Catalyst Fund today.

This story was published on October 28, 2015

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