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Jones’ 'Last Lecture': put patients, compassion first

Published on Thursday, May 5, 2016

By: Karen Bascom

Published in News Stories on May 05, 2016

For the record, Dr. Dan Jones is neither retiring nor dying.

However, Jones, professor and interim chair of the Department of Medicine and director of clinical and population science in the obesity center, did deliver UMMC's first Last Lecture. Students, staff and faculty filled the Norman C. Nelson Student Union on May 4 to listen to the former vice chancellor and UM chancellor present, “Lessons from My Patients.”

Last Lecture speakers are encouraged to deliver the message they would give if they knew this was their final chance to speak publicly. Dr. Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, popularized the Last Lecture in 2007 when he gave a talk one month after learning he had metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Jones encouraged faculty members to consider what they might say in their own last lectures then shared his message. He addressed the students and other learners because “medicine is a life-long learning experience.


“You learn from your mentors and your colleagues, but the most important lessons come from your patients,” Jones said.

Jones referenced Dr. William Osler, a patient-centered care advocate before the term was popular, who said, “He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients doesn't go to sea at all.

“Treat the patient, not the test results,” was Jones' first lesson. “Sometimes the patient knows better,” he said.

This is especially the case for end-of-life decisions. Jones recounted the story of a patient he treated through two diabetes-related amputations then resuscitated when she nearly died. After that, Jones and the patient had one of the saddest conversations of his life.

“She said she was angry that I resuscitated her, that she was ready to die and that as her physician I should have known that about her,” Jones said.

“Having meaningful, compassionate conversations about palliative and end-of-life care is a ministry to a patient and their family.”

Students say Jones' compassion extends to others even when their lives aren't at stake.

Jones, center, speaks with wife Lydia, left and M2 student Meagan Henry before the Last Lecture.
Jones, center, speaks with wife Lydia, left and M2 student Meagan Henry before the Last Lecture.

“Dr. Jones listens in a way that makes people feel important,” said Meagan Henry, an M2. “He embodies all of the qualities that make an excellent physician.”

Henry is a member of the Student Alumni Representatives (STARS), who hosted the event with the Office of Alumni Affairs. Students chose Jones as the inaugural Last Lecture speaker because of his local and international reputation in health care, research and education.

When you're an excellent physician like Jones, you're paid for it. However, Jones says that the best payment is not money, but other gifts from your patients.

“Nothing says thank you like a Mississippi tomato,” Jones said.

In Jones' 41 years of medical practice, he has received handshakes, potatoes, seaweed and beer. However, the best gift came from a “treatment failure.” After Jones told the patient, an chronic alcoholic, he had days left to live, the man returned with an heirloom gold railroad watch. Jones first refused the gift, but the patient's response, and the watch, have stayed with him.

“My patient said, 'It wasn't your fault that I'm dying,'” Jones said. “'But you've treated me with dignity, respect and compassion.'”

Compassionate care has always been important to Jones throughout his career. In practice, he expresses that through words and touch. Jones says he starts every patient visit by holding their wrist to feel their pulse and put them at ease.

However, when Jones was a medical missionary in South Korea, he worked with people who had been infected with leprosy. While Jones knew he would not contract the disease, he “had to fight the urge to avoid touching the patients,” he says.

“They sensed my caution, but they were patient with me,” Jones said. “As I became more at ease, I could feel the change in the patients and in myself.

“The healing power of touch goes both ways,” was the lesson from Jones. “It forms an almost magical bond between patient and physician.”

Lauren Schober, M3, meets with Jones after the Last Lecture.
Lauren Schober, M3, meets with Jones after the Last Lecture.

Jones' final lesson was the joy of putting patients' needs ahead of his own. He illustrated with another story about hands and his South Korean leprosy patients.

One day he braved a snowstorm to reach their hilltop clinic, expecting no patients to make the dangerous trek to see him. However, Jones decided to go because even if only one patient needed his care the trip would be worth it.

Jones arrived to a clinic full of patients.

“I have never experienced anything like that moment when everyone in the waiting room stood up and applauded with leprosy-scarred hands,” he said.

At the end of his talk, Jones had a final message for medical students in the room.

“Medicine's very best teachers have been my patients and I wish you all a career filled with the joy I have experienced,” Jones said.

“Your teachers await.”