By Justin Bartos III, M.D.
I considered David Pillow my mentor. He was a unique individual who visualized the future and made it happen.
As a family physician in North Richland Hills, he introduced many physicians to the Tarrant County chapter of TAFP and served as president. After helping start a practice and a hospital, he left his practice to serve as program director for the John Peter Smith Family Medicine Residency. When he left the program, he returned to North Richland Hills to start another practice. He promoted family medicine as the solution to health care and he believed nurse practitioners could expand the number of patients served by family physicians. He included them in his practice and began teaching at the nurse practitioner program at the UT Arlington School of Nursing.
During this part of his career, I had the opportunity to join him. I was familiar with his name from the residency program, and I sought him out. He was somewhat of a legend and he exceeded all my expectations. Along with his vision he possessed a practical approach to all problems. He did not accept artificial barriers created by specialties to define their turf. If he was trained to do it, he did it.
His patients sought him out if their specialty providers were not successfully addressing their concerns. He frequently provided them with acceptable solutions.
He had a confidence and a joyous disposition that infected all those around him. I could never tell if he was mad or disappointed with my decisions, but he often pointed out areas of caution.
He loved to hunt and had a getaway in Colorado. In his western attire and with his confident wisdom, he gave you the impression that he was the personification of a character from an old western movie. He would introduce himself as “Dave Pillow; like a feather (pillow).”
He loved to teach, and we always seemed to have nurse practitioner students in the office along with a mix of pre-medical and medical students. When he wasn’t teaching students he was teaching noncredit health courses to the local population at the junior college.
I wish I had written down all the sage advice and truisms passed on by David Pillow, but here are a few:
- When we first met, he shared his ideas about group practice: 1. Always cover for your partner’s patients as if they were your own, 2. Always share the money as equally as possible, 3. Do not bring the spouses into the business.
- When dealing with difficult patients, he would caution you to listen carefully to what they say. Even patients with mental health problems can often have serious medical illnesses. I remember a woman who complained of being tired for years with normal exams, but once she presented with a severe anemia.
- He also reminded me that if you felt uncomfortable or uneasy evaluating a patient, the problem does not necessarily rest with you.
In a humorous but practical situation he might say that if the patient scares you, then you make sure you position yourself between the patient and the door.
I remember how adamant he was about screening for colon cancer before it was very popular.
For patients with symptoms that were vague or difficult to describe, he would diagnose autonomic nervous system dysfunction, which now has an approved Medicare test.
Most of all David Pillow conveyed a genuine interest in improving the health and lives of the patients he served and the people around him. He had a wonderfully supportive wife, Annabel, and children who admired him and followed in his footsteps. They are his legacy along with those of us that had an opportunity to be touched by this wonderful man.