Family physician’s relationship with his patients returns inspiration, support

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An excerpt from Dr. Justin Bartos’ Physician of the Year acceptance speech

By Justin V. Bartos III, M.D.

Thank you for the great honor of being named the 2012 Texas Family Physician of the Year. It is a dream come true. As you work on behalf of your patients, your practice, and the specialty of family medicine, you often wonder if this effort is recognized by your colleagues. It is extremely gratifying to receive such an award.

I practice under the Medical Clinic of North Texas, which comprises more than 150 primary care physicians. I also spend a portion of my time as the medical director of the Dr. David Pillow Senior Health Clinic at HCA North Hills Hospital. This has been a very fulfilling part of my practice. David Pillow was my mentor when I started my practice 27 years ago. Using the fundamentals of the patient-centered medical home we have a very effective proactive team approach to senior care.

When Bruce Jacobson first introduced the motion to nominate me for this award at a monthly meeting of the Tarrant County Academy of Family Physicians, he mentioned advocacy as one of my primary attributes that should be recognized. Advocacy is certainly a subject that I devote a lot of thought, time, and money to, with patients, in the community, and in the political arena, and I am honored that Dr. Jacobson, my residency director who was politically active in his community, would recognize this.

Even though things I do outside of the office and my practice contributed to my nomination, I wish to dedicate this award to my patients; they make me what I am.

Two people in particular have been great inspirations and advocates for me and I’d like to share their stories.

The first is Jackie. Jackie overcame great adversity and has been an incredible inspiration to those that know her. Seventeen years ago she was a local middle school secretary. She was a favorite of the students and parents. She had an unusual affliction. She had a tremendously enlarged left leg that physicians know as elephantiasis. She presented to the office one afternoon with an open wound on the back of her ankle and she had signs of an infection. Her entire lower leg was red, engorged, warm, and her blood pressure was falling.

I admitted her to the hospital and then moved her to the ICU. Her condition deteriorated. I called a surgeon to evaluate her for an amputation of the leg. I was standing at her bedside when she had a respiratory arrest and I began her resuscitation. Miraculously she survived her surgery and the amputation, but that was not the end. Due to the shock, as she laid in a semi-coma for several days her fingers, hand, toes, and foot became purple and black. I assessed her wounds daily and prayed they would recover, but they did not. I could not imagine what her life would be like without her hands and foot. I felt hopeless and was uncertain if she would regret surviving with so many limitations. I prayed some more.

Ultimately Jackie survived and thrived and she wrote me a beautiful short story expressing her gratitude for the life and the opportunities she has enjoyed: her family, her grandchildren, and now her great-grandchildren. She is an inspiration to anyone she meets, and an example of how the human spirit can overcome tremendous adversity.

The second patient I wish to tell you about is my number one all-time advocate. His name is Jerry and he is no longer with us, but his story is worth sharing. Jerry was a character. He operated a small insurance agency and an extended warranty company until he retired. He was a big burly man but had a very soft heart. He was active in the church and participated on the parish board. But, he also liked to barbeque, drink beer, and tell stories. Jerry was known to help those in need. He and his wife even took in an ill clergyman with no support and nursed him back to health.

Jerry reluctantly came in for a physical at his wife’s insistence when he was 62 years old. He would have come sooner but he like so many men was fearful of the dreaded “finger” exam. Jerry had his physical but all was not well. The digital exam revealed hidden blood and Jerry was scheduled for a colonoscopy which confirmed a right-sided colon cancer. Jerry underwent surgery and his right colon was removed along with a single spot on his liver. Jerry followed with chemotherapy and he did very well. He became an advocate for colon cancer screening. He told anyone that would listen that Bartos saved his life with his finger. Of course he also claimed that beer helped him kick cancer.

A few years later our group was in an intense negotiation with an insurer over our health plan contract. Initially they agreed to a contract but then reneged on the agreement. We decided we would drop this insurer unless they honored the agreement. Jerry was covered by this insurer. He and several other patients began calling their office repeatedly as the deadline approached. The insurer contacted our group and asked if we could get Jerry to stop calling. In the end they did come forward and agreed to a similar contract. I realized then that our patients are our biggest allies and advocates. Those of you who develop strong, lasting relationships with your patients also have advocates who are willing to help you when the need arises. Do not hesitate to ask them.

Thank you again for this great honor. Thank you to the Texas Academy of Family Physicians and all of its outstanding members. Thank you to my patients who allow me to share their lives with them. They give me purpose and direction.

Learn more about the Texas Family Physician of the Year Award and how to submit a nomination at

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