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Logo of bumcprocBaylor University Medical Center ProceedingsAbout the JournalBaylor Health Care SystemSubmit a Manuscript
Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2010 April; 23(2): 183.
PMCID: PMC2848099

Short, Short Stories and Random Thoughts, by J. Willis Hurst, MD

Reviewed by Beverlee Warren, MA, MS

Bloomington, IN:  Xlibris Corporation,  2009. Hardcover,  219 pp., $29.99. 

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This self-published collection of stories and thoughts gives a dimension to renowned cardiologist J. Willis Hurst, MD, not likely experienced by the legions who admire him as physician mentor. Using the pen name Dr. Vance Connelly, Hurst reveals in these autobiographical sketches the human side of a gifted medical scientist. Although I have never met Dr. Hurst, I caught a glimpse of his softer side in the illustrated children's book written for and with his grandson Stuart titled The Heart (McGraw-Hill, 1999). That he would take time from a prestigious and demanding schedule to respond to Stuart's “Let's write a book” plea touched this grandmother's heart. The Heart has been in my consumer health library, fulfilling Dr. Hurst's desire that “we hope everyone, young and old, can learn something from this book.” So it is not surprising that we are offered a glimpse into the vulnerabilities of Dr. Hurst in this compendium of personal revelations. He does not seem to fear exposure or judgment, and that is a unique quality in a profession that is frequently populated by purveyors of privacy.

Numerous “Hurstisms” are tucked into this collection. On the importance of being a lifelong learner: “He [Dr. Vance Connelly] believed in self learning. He recognized that no doctor could know everything” (p. 28). On devotion to one's patients: “The relationship a physician has with the patient is unique, precious, and sacred and must never be violated” (p. 34). On professional competency: “Note, it takes two very different things to be a good doctor—compassion for the patient and the constant struggle to improve his or her knowledge. One without the other spells failure” (p. 39). On driving to a medical crisis: “He broke the speed limit; he held his stethoscope out the window to signal to the cops that his speeding was due to an emergency” (p. 52). On submitting to authority as a medical student: “Remember that neither your teachers nor the disciplines they teach, be it ‘basic science’ or ‘clinical medicine,’ are on trial, you are!” (p. 61). On excellence: “Should the pursuit of excellence be ignored, the spirit of man will die” (p. 97). On continuing education given in a 1971 graduation address before consumer health information was popular: “All hospitals must become educational centers for patients, visitors, and for those who work there” (p. 98).

Dr. Hurst gives us his clear agenda for this book: “When the ‘sun sets’ people identify with those who have left by telling stories about them” (p. 219). To that end, Dr. Hurst has prepared us for his eventual departure with much to remember him by. One would wish that a videographer would add visual and auditory dimension to these stories by capturing this remarkable man giving voice to his own stories. If you need a chuckle, read chapter 31, “The Learning Center.” If you are looking for a remarkable statement on service, read Judge Elbert Tuttle's 1957 graduation address in chapter 27, “What is the Definition of a Profession?” Judge Tuttle's statement made over 50 years ago brings to life Baylor Health Care System's contemporary value of servanthood, “serving with an attitude of unselfish concern.” Judge Tuttle's address states, in part, regarding the medical professional: “In a very real sense, his professional service cannot be separate from his personal being. He has no goods to sell, no land to till; his only asset is himself. It turns out there is no right price for service, for what is a share of man worth? If he does not contain the quality of integrity, he is worthless. If he does, he is priceless. The value is either nothing or it is infinite” (p. 123).

This little volume packs inspiration, humor, determination, and striving for excellence into stories from a man who dares to reveal his passionate side. What the writing lacks in literary finesse is made up for in genuine transparency and folksy humor. Dr. Hurst is generous in often highlighting the good others say and do even when it is at his own expense. The book is considerately printed in large font, which adds to the pleasure one will get from its reading.

Articles from Proceedings (Baylor University. Medical Center) are provided here courtesy of Baylor Health Care System