Gold-Headed Cane Award Recipient Teresa Godbey, MD
By Allison Howard
This piece was originally published in the November/December issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.
If Teresa Godbey, MD, has one piece of advice for physicians early in their careers, it is to develop relationships with their colleagues. “Find at least one group where you want to go to meetings. You need other people. It’s fine to read and educate yourself on your own, but you need at least one regularly attended organized group.”
Dr. Godbey, TCMS’ 2020 Gold-Headed Cane Award recipient, is speaking from experience. In October, she retired after 33 years of practicing Internal Medicine in Fort Worth. Throughout her career, she has been a member of the Texas Club of Internists, the Texas Medical Association, and the Tarrant County Medical Society. “I don’t know what I would do without them.”
Though Dr. Godbey has long been involved in the medical community, becoming a physician was not her original plan. She got her undergraduate degree in English, but when she finished college, Dr. Godbey was unsure of her future career. She worked at Xerox for a year but soon realized that she wanted to go a completely different direction. Dr. Godbey was a new mother at the time, and she wanted stability and independence—and to do something that she loved. When she realized her interest and abilities converged at Medicine, she started down that path and never looked back. She began attending classes at UTA to get the necessary prerequisites to apply to medical school.
While the decision was sudden, the inspiration was not. Many people from her past influenced Dr. Godbey—from her beloved childhood pediatrician, Dr. Frank Cohen, to a favorite high school teacher, Valda “Frau C.” Carroll, who suffered from multiple sclerosis—these important individuals planted seeds that would impact her future. When the opportunity arose for Dr. Godbey to go back to school, her vision was clear: she was going to become a physician.
“Dr. Godbey has always been the type of physician I aspire to be myself. She has remained passionate about and fiercely committed to her patients, even in these times of increasingly heavy burden of clerical activities which constantly seek to burn us out and pull us away from the joy of direct patient care.”
Not everyone shared her enthusiasm. Between her young son and her English degree, Dr. Godbey’s academic counselor did not think she was a serious candidate for medical school. Dr. Godbey was told that she had to make A’s in all of her classes. “Thankfully, I was very confident then!” laughs Dr. Godbey. “That didn’t worry me.” No, she was not concerned about her math or science classes—it was PE that made her nervous. “PE was the class that really scared me. I intentionally got my undergraduate degree at a college that didn’t require it, but UTA was making me take PE. The only thing that would fit between the math and science courses and labs was racquetball. Racquetball!” Dr. Godbey remembers in dismay. Though racquetball was not her strong suit, her coach was fortunately more focused on dedication than ability. She completed all of her classes—even racquetball—with excellent grades and was accepted into medical school at UT Southwestern in 1980.
Dr. Godbey emphasizes that she did not go on this journey alone; she believes she never would have become a physician without the support of her mother. “She watched my son, Noah, for me. She loved it and made it possible for me to go back to school,” says Dr. Godbey. “I never could have done this without her.”
Once in medical school, Dr. Godbey began to consider the different specialties she could pursue. Everything came into focus during the beginning of her third-year rotations when she realized that she wanted to practice Internal Medicine. Dr. Godbey was originally considering a career as an OB/GYN, but when she recognized her love of interactions with patients during her medicine rotation and saw the appeal of building decades-spanning relationships with her patients, she shifted her focus, deciding to apply for a residency in Internal Medicine. She was accepted into Parkland Hospital’s residency program in 1984 and was hired by Internal Medicine Associates in 1987. She stayed with the group through mergers and acquisitions her entire career.
During her years in practice, Dr. Godbey developed the longstanding relationships she had hoped for with many of her patients. “My patients have aged with me for the most part,” she says. She also enjoyed the fact that primary care treats an expansive range of healthcare needs. While numerous patients and cases were significant throughout her career, one success comes to mind as a win she will never forget. A woman diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum had been sick in the hospital for weeks. She had been put on IVs and TPN, but as time went on, her condition continued to deteriorate. Numerous physicians had seen her, but they could not determine the root of the problem. When Dr. Godbey was called in, she looked at the chart and immediately saw something concerning. “I remembered Dr. Leonard Madison talking about beriberi when I was in medical school, which is thiamin deficiency. It was just there, on her chart. No thiamin.” At that time, there was a shortage of thiamin nationally, so it was not included in TPN. Since patients were generally not on TPN for an extended period of time it was not an issue, but because this woman had been using it for weeks, the deficiency was causing her significant distress. They quickly added an additional thiamin supplement to her IV, and within a day she had recovered and was on her way home. As much as it was an exciting experience for Dr. Godbey, she defers the credit to her medical school professor: “She got better thanks to Dr. Madison and his lecture on beriberi!”
“I don’t know of any doctor who deserves this award more. She is the most caring doctor I have ever known, always putting her patients’ needs and well-being above all else.”
Dr. Godbey’s colleagues emphasize that it is her complete dedication to patient care that characterizes her as a physician. Jennifer Arnouville, MD, says, “Dr. Godbey has always been the type of physician I aspire to be myself. She has remained passionate about and fiercely committed to her patients, even in these times of increasingly heavy burden of clerical activities which constantly seek to burn us out and pull us away from the joy of direct patient care.”
Over the years, Dr. Godbey certainly saw the practice of Medicine change, much as her own practice developed. What was once a group of seven or eight physicians has grown into what is now USMD, which is part of the even larger OptumCare. Though there were many adjustments, some things stayed the same. Ed Nelson, MD, one of the physicians who hired Dr. Godbey 33 years ago, continued with the practice alongside her. Dr. Nelson, Lee Forshay, MD, and Tom Davis, MD, were the partners at Internal Medicine Associates when Dr. Godbey joined the practice. She is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with these physicians; they helped shape who she is as a physician and her approach to patient care.
Reflecting back on when Dr. Godbey was hired, Dr. Nelson says the group could not have made a better choice. “What we couldn’t know then is what a great doctor she would be for the next 33 years. She and I have been associates, colleagues, and friends that whole time. I don’t know of any doctor who deserves this award more. She is the most caring doctor I have ever known, always putting her patients’ needs and well-being above all else.”
A number of physicians have supported Dr. Godbey throughout her career, including Stephen Eppstein, MD, and Roger Eppstein, MD; this father and son pair impacted Dr. Godbey in different but significant ways. Dr. Stephen Eppstein was her town attending in medical school, the person she could go to if she ever had a question or needed direction. “He was the safe one to ask for help,” she shares. He was also the one who directed her to Internal Medicine Associates. Dr. Roger Eppstein was one of her longtime partners at USMD. Dr. Nelson and Dr. Roger Eppstein were in her “pod” at the clinic and were often the physicians Dr. Godbey turned to for advice on difficult cases and to discuss new regulations or the state of Medicine. Even though she was in a large practice, the longstanding relationships she developed over time helped her overcome the isolation that can be a struggle in corporate medicine.
As she mentioned in her message to young physicians, Dr. Godbey believes that participating in organized medicine is an important part of connecting with fellow doctors and staying up to date on changes in the profession. “It’s a critical way to build relationships and meet people that can support you in your career that you can also support,” says Dr. Godbey. “I always know that TMA and TCMS are there for me—I would feel completely out of touch if I didn’t have the bulletins from TMA and Tarrant County Medical Society. New rules, new regulations, what’s happening currently with the pandemic. They keep me informed.”
Organized medicine also provides leadership opportunities and chances to break barriers, as Dr. Godbey experienced firsthand. When she was first considered for membership by the Texas Club of Internists, they required a 100 percent vote to add new members; because of this, a number of Internists, including minorities and females, were not accepted. Finally, in 1997, the Club amended their bylaws to fight these exclusionary practices. Dr. Godbey was the first female physician to attend a Club meeting, become a regular participant of the group, and ultimately, become the president; she served in that role in 2014. “It was amazing to see the how things changed—they barely let me in, and not 20 years later I was their president,” shares Dr. Godbey. She has seen other positive shifts over the years, such as rising numbers of female medical students. “It was 20 percent women when I went to medical school—now it is over 50 percent.”
While encouraged by the developments she has seen, Dr. Godbey believes that it is critical to continue advocating for minority and female physicians and any other groups that are not given full access to opportunities. Not just because doing so is best for individuals—it is also best for the practice of Medicine.
While advocacy and involvement are important, Dr. Godbey cautions young physicians to maintain work/life balance. Overall, she is encouraged by what she sees. “Younger doctors are better at prioritizing their homelife than we used to be,” she admits. “Don’t let go of that balance. Keep your interests outside of Medicine—reading, gardening, exercise. Whatever it is, it helps you keep your purpose in focus.”
When she in not busy Dr. Godbey enjoys hiking, cooking, and reading. Most of all, she loves to spend time with her family, including her husband, Leighton Clark, and their children. They have a blended family, which has added many blessings to Dr. Godbey’s life. “I had one son and I ended up with two sons and three daughters,” she shares. Between the two of them they have Noah, Philip, and Meredith; daughters-in-law Ashley and Mary; and granddaughters Marianne, Elinor, and Prudence. Dr. Godbey also shares a close relationship with her sister, Susan Pantle. Whenever possible, she and Leighton enjoy spending time with Susan and her husband, Mark.
Some things have come full circle; now that she is retired, Dr. Godbey and her husband will help watch their youngest grandchild, much as Dr. Godbey’s mother took care of Noah all those years ago when she was in medical school. “I’m excited to have the chance to give back,” says Dr. Godbey. “And to get to spend more time with Prue. I love taking care of my granddaughters.”
Dr. Godbey’s colleagues view her career as one hallmarked by commitment to her patients; her passion for excellence and empathy in providing care is something well known throughout Tarrant County’s medical community. “Dr. Godbey has been a role-model and mentor for me throughout the years that I’ve been in practice,” says Dr. Roger Eppstein. “Always a ‘doctor’s doctor,’ she has practiced evidence-based, compassionate Medicine throughout her career. It is no wonder why her patients have been so loyal to her. She has been practicing thoughtful ‘value-based medicine’ even before anyone coined this term.”
In acknowledgment of Dr. Godbey’s outstanding career, the Tarrant County Medical Society is proud to congratulate her as the 2020 Gold-Headed Cane Award recipient.