Devotion to Patients, Devotion to Teaching: A Welcome Message From Our New Department Director


The following remarks were given by Dr. James "Jimmy" Potash, welcoming the new residents to the Johns Hopkins Hospital on this, his first day as Department Director. After Dr. Potash spoke, the residents were introduced to the faculty and staff, and Dr. Potash spent more time with the new PGY2 class. This is an important tradition in the annual life of the Department, and these remarks reflect well its core values of patient care, teaching, and research.

- Graham Redgrave

Thanks to all of you for coming to welcome our new residents. This is an energizing event for those of us on the faculty as the arrival of bright and enthusiastic new doctors, eager to learn psychiatry, reminds us of how much possibility and promise there is for our patients and for our field. I must say that somehow this feels like quite an auspicious day to be starting in a new position. New residents, as a newbie myself, I feel your excitement! And I feel your anxiety! We are very much in this thing together.

I can tell you that the experience of going through training at Hopkins is an incredibly valuable one, because I did my residency here 22 years ago. Many of the people you see here today were my teachers, like Glenn Treisman, Angela Guarda, Russ Margolis, and Karen Swartz. These wonderful folks taught me what it means to be a Hopkins psychiatrist.

You may know that the first residencies were created at Hopkins by the Williams brothers--William Osler in medicine and William Halsted in surgery. A lot of the power and the magic of becoming a physician lies in residing with patients. Being present with them. Yes, it will be good to know what medications to prescribe and in what doses. But it will also be therapeutic for patients and motivating for you when you listen to them, get to know them, feel some of their anguish, and share with them some of your optimism.

Becoming a doctor means joining an ancient profession. It is not the oldest profession. But it is one that goes back at least as far as Hippocrates 2,400 years ago. Surveys tell us that doctors are the single most respected group of professionals in America. It is partly because of our biomedical power to cure or effectively manage diseases. That is a relatively recent development. But it is also a result of our long-standing and ancient tradition of devotion to our patients. This is a tradition for which physicians at Hopkins, in general, and on the Phipps Psychiatric Service, in particular, have had profound reverence. The personal sacrifices doctors have made in this context and the healing that has resulted have often been seen as having a spiritual gravitas, though this has also been cast in a humanistic light. Either way, they resonate deeply and powerfully.

We on the faculty will teach you facts and we will teach you skills. We will teach you about diagnoses, and medications, and psychotherapy. I hope we can also teach you about devotion to the people we are caring for and to their families. And I hope we can inspire devotion to the larger psychiatric enterprise including the education of providers, the development of systems of care, and the discovery of new mechanisms underlying illness and of new approaches to treatment.

Being a new resident is always exciting, but it isn’t always easy. The same is true for being a new department chair. When the going gets tough, please don’t hesitate to come find me so we can sit down together and commiserate. But I will not be offended if you decide to turn to your fellow residents first. And remember that you’ve got a lot of great faculty here who are always ready to help. Please don’t hesitate to let us know what we can do. We will be devoted to you.

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