Growing up next door to two young men with childhood disabilities helped Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. Cynthia Peacock develop a quality that shaped her career as an academic physician humility.
"I have always felt that professionalism in medicine is rooted in humility," said Peacock, who has been named the 2012 Ben and Margaret Love Foundation Bobby Alford Award for Academic Clinical Professionalism. "A physician's view is not universal, and we are not the center of the universe. We need to examine the patient and then be patient.
"The Love Award honors BCM academic clinicians annually for demonstrating exemplary professionalism in the practice of medicine.
Privilege of caring for others
"As a teacher, my goal is to have the learner develop a keen appreciation of the privilege of caring for others," said Peacock. "The ultimate lesson is to care for a patient who is the most vulnerable, who has been marginalized in society and has been forgotten and as a physician be grateful for that encounter."
As director of the Transition Medicine Clinic, Peacock leads a team of specially trained health care workers that provide and coordinate care for adolescents and young adults with significant chronic illnesses or disabilities as they move from pediatric to adult care. These illnesses may include Down syndrome, sickle cell disease, Spina bifida or developmental disabilities.
Peacock said the population of patients she cares for teach her humility, just as her childhood did growing up next door to a young man with an intellectual disability and his adopted brother who had cerebral palsy.
From grade school on, Peacock, her brother and sister and the neighborhood kids idolized and cherished their relationship with the boys, playing baseball, riding bikes and taking turns with wheel barrel rides and wheel chair races.
"We were great friends. We never allowed anyone to tease them or call names," said Peacock. "We were their protectors."
The bond between Peacock and the boys would only strengthen over the years and helped steer Peacock in the direction of health care. She even made a promise to the young men's ill mother that she would grow up and pursue a career taking care of people with disabilities.
She held her promise.
Peacock pursued a career in nursing and after 15 years, decided to enter medical school at BCM in 1991. Upon completion of the Medicine-Pediatrics Residency Program at BCM, she worked for two years as a flight physician for the Texas Children's Hospital Air Medical Transport Service.
In 2005, Peacock helped established the BCM Transition Medicine Program and Transition Medicine Clinic, which she now directs. She is also a professor of medicine and of pediatrics at BCM.
"When residents join me in the Baylor Transition Medicine Clinic, I ask them to tell me about the patient they are seeing in clinic. When they tell me the story about the disease, I ask them to tell it to me again but about the patient," said Peacock. "Then I ask them to see the patients in the exam room for the first time."
It is critical that physicians-in-training demonstrate behaviors such as compassion and humility, which complement exemplary professionalism in medicine, Peacock said. "My hope is that I accomplish this through my role modeling."
"One of my favorite tasks is chairing the Alford / Love Award selection committee. Reading the nomination letters for every nominee is an inspiration and a reminder of what a privilege it is to work at Baylor," said Dr. James Lomax, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at BCM. "That was especially true this year. Dr. Peacock's extraordinary giving of herself personally and professionally to patients and families that might have easily been ignored if not for her loving devotion to them serves as a special model of medical professionalism."
"With her passionate and determined focus on the care of young adults with chronic disabilities, Dr. Peacock is the paradigm of academic clinical professionalism," said Dr. Robert Todd, chair of medicine at BCM. "When the opportunity arose to suggest a nominee for the prestigious Love Award, she was the obvious choice."
Peacock will be presented with the award at the White Coat Ceremony for first-year medical students Aug. 10.