Arkansas medical student reflects on family legacy
FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — At the start of their medical careers, Meredith Grey and Jackson Avery weren’t exactly forthcoming about their families, coming from world-renowned surgeons and all.
Grey didn’t want her class to know her mother was one of the most successful female surgeons, winning multiple Harper Avery awards for surgical innovation. Avery, likewise, didn’t want his colleagues to know his grandfather was the founder of the award.
It wasn’t that they lacked pride for those who came before them; they simply didn’t want colleagues to think their success was due to their bloodline.
While the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine isn’t actually one giant episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” it does feature a real-life medical legacy in second-year student Patrick Bell.
Bell doesn’t usually talk about his family — he listed 11 family members who have worked in medicine — especially not his great-grandfather, who studied under A.T. Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine, and was one of the state’s first DOs. His history can be intimidating.
“I don’t want people to look at me and think, ‘Oh, you got here because of them.’ I don’t want to be thought of as a byproduct of nepotism,” Bell told the Southwest Times Record . “I want to be able to show people that I stand here on my own efforts. Maybe I have these expectations to fill, but I use that as motivation. That’s a reputation to uphold, rather ride off the coattails of.”
Louis Jesse Bell grew up in Blackwell, Oklahoma, and it was up to him to care for the family farm after his father left. He was only 12 years old.
According to family lore, Louis Jesse Bell ran a boarding house and laundry service to put himself through medical school with Still.
His education allowed him to allegedly heal his mother, who was suffering from necrotic adenoids, which are similar to tonsils and part of the lymphatic system.
Patrick Bell said to take that story “with a grain of salt,” but it’s one he enjoys telling.
Louis Jesse Bell, following the completion of his education in 1912, went on to become one of the first doctors of osteopathic medicine in Arkansas. It wasn’t an easy path, for sure. He advised his son to become an MD, which tends to reflect traditional Western medicine than a more holistic treatment, after fellow physicians tried to run him out of town.
“Just be an MD; you’ll get less crap for it,” Patrick Bell said of his great-grandfather’s advice.
There is still a societal divide between MDs and DOs, but, despite some changes in training, both areas are held to similar standards.
Patrick Bell’s uncle, Dr. Timothy Bell, is a longtime OB-GYN at Mercy Fort Smith. Timothy Bell said he was one of the state’s first DOs in the specialty. It wasn’t really a conscious choice to go into osteopathic medicine over the traditional route; it was about what schools would accept him during his studies.
“It doesn’t matter what your degree is. It matters what’s between your ears,” Timothy Bell said. “There’s good and bad in both specialties. It’s the person that makes the doctor.”
Born Louis Jesse Patrick Bell III, he naturally resisted the idea of studying medicine. That’s what was expected of him. He wanted to forge his own path.
So, instead of taking a pre-med track as an undergraduate, Patrick Bell decided to major in chemistry. He got a job working in toxicology, thinking he’d get to work with tools such as mass spectrometers. Mass spectrometers are used to determine the mass of ions (charged particles) in chemical compounds for clinical testing, drug discovery, protein analysis, among other uses.
That’s not what happened.
“They basically wanted me to pipette pee all day,” Patrick Bell said. “I wanted something challenging, something that would be of benefit to society.”
Patrick Bell saw the impact medicine can have on a group of people at his maternal grandfather’s funeral through the words that were shared. That’s when it clicked. Going into medicine wasn’t him giving into the family business. It was about being able to make a difference — he’s considering neurology, psychiatry, family medicine, plus a possible one-year addiction medicine fellowship.
There are questions as to the specialty Patrick Bell will ultimately choose, but he likes family practice. Not only does it run in the family, but he can do a little bit of everything and serve patients long term.
“You can build up rapport with your patients through many years,” Patrick Bell said. “One of the things that drove me to medicine was to be able to see the fruits of my labor. If I can have people who can come back to me, that’d make me happy.”
A photo hangs on the wall in one of the ARCOM study labs. It’s surrounded by anatomical models and medical-related art. It’s pretty easy to miss, but it holds a lot of significance.
Still is shown teaching several students, including Louis Jesse Bell and two women. For the school, it’s a piece of the osteopathic medicine history. For Patrick Bell, it’s a piece of who he is.
He tends to keep his family legacy private and seeing the photo can be daunting. Patrick Bell knows he has big shoes to fill, and his friends call him famous, but he always says he’s not.
“That man,” Bell said referring to his great-grandfather, “is famous. I ain’t done nothing yet. Just wait and see.”
Patrick Bell doesn’t know exactly what his next steps will be or where he’ll end up. Right now, he’s just trying to get to finals and later pass the board exam.
His uncle always knew his nephew was destined for medicine and looks forward to the future.
“He has to prove himself. It’s not about what Dad did or Grandpa did,” Timothy Bell said. “It’s about what he can do, (but) it’s very exciting.”
Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/