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For Them You'd Go Back to School

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Summer 1996
Luckman Distinguished Teaching Awards
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Phyllis Guze, Medical School

It's 8:30 a.m. at the Veterans Administration Medical Center near UCLA, and Dr. Phyllis Guze, bagel in hand, is questioning residents about vaginal discharge. Specifically, she's asked about how her students discuss the subject with their patients. Admittedly, it's an odd subject to cover during breakfast, but Guze -- chief of the Department of Medicine at the VA since 1988 -- handles it with good-humored aplomb.

"I asked her how many partners she had," reports the resident handling the case. "What do you mean -- on her date last night?" responds Guze, setting off laughter from the lab-coated doctors.

It's not a joke, though: Guze's job at the daily case study session is to challenge these young doctors to ask the right questions, prescribe the proper tests and make the correct diagnoses. "We have a long tradition in medicine of mentors and role models," she explains. "We teach by example."

Guze's example is clear: "I have a passion for medicine. And I delight in being able to stimulate bright people to develop in their areas of interest. The hallmark of a good teacher is when your students do better than you."

Guze, 53, took a winding road to her medical degree. Raised in Bayside, New York, she grew up at a time when women weren't easily accepted into med schools -- so she became a P.E. teacher before finally going to USC to study internal medicine. Her own list of inspirational mentors is headed by her late husband, Lucien Guze, with whom she worked at Harbor General Hospital.

She came to the VA in 1981, finding there "an exciting sort of intellectual atmosphere that you try to bring back to the patient." Her specialization is in sexually transmitted diseases and infective endocarditis -- heart disease. Along the path to her present position she also served as dean of education for the UCLA School of Medicine from 1991 to 1995.

It's not surprising that one of her proudest achievements in that position was a course on "Doctoring," which covers the humanistic, ethical and community-oriented aspects of medicine. In other words, it teaches M.D.s to be more like Dr. Phyllis Guze.

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