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The Doctor’s Doctor – Gregory J. Phillips, MD

Gold-Headed Cane Award Recipient

By Allison Howard

This article was originally published in the November/December 2022 issue of the Tarrant County Physician.

When Dr. Gregory Phillips starts seeing patients for the day, it isn’t in his office, as you might expect for an internist. No—he begins by making rounds at Texas Health Harris Methodist and HCA Medical City hospitals, checking up on any of his patients who are currently admitted. 

“I am usually at the hospital, I don’t know, 6:00, 6:30?” Dr. Phillips says. “And then I usually get to my office at 8:00.”

Going to see his patients in the hospital makes Dr. Phillips a bit of a unicorn in the medical world; the red tape of credentialing complications and readily available hospitalists have made the practice nearly obsolete. But Dr. Phillips has seen admitted patients throughout his over 40 years of practicing medicine in Fort Worth, and it means the world to them. 

“I saw a 94-year-old lady in the office today with her daughter, and I said, ‘What was your good experience and bad experience with your hospitalization at Harris?’’ says Dr. Robert Keller, who works with Dr. Phillips at his private practice, Fort Worth Medical Specialists. “And they said, ‘Dr. Phillips showed up every day at the same time, and we could ask all of our questions and he knew all of the answers.’”

Dr. Keller, who spent years as Dr. Phillips’ call partner before joining his practice in 2021, pauses to reflect as he recalls the conversation. “That’s a classic story for Greg. He is devoted to his patients . . . I call it ‘covenantal care.’ His contract with his patients is not simply economic, it’s not simply medicine – it’s covenantal. You’re in this together.”

But Dr. Phillips’ commitment to medicine and the community extends beyond his own practice. Throughout his career he has been dedicated to organized medicine, educating medical students, supporting the arts, and advocating for the underserved of our community. And, yes, his patients.

That is why Dr. Phillips’ colleagues are recognizing him as the 2022 Tarrant County Medical Society Gold-Headed Cane recipient, an honor that is given to the “Doctor’s Doctor” for their excellence in patient care and impact on the practice of medicine in Tarrant County. 

“Dr. Phillips is a ‘Doctor’s Doctor,’” says his friend and fellow physician Dr. David Donahue. “Colleagues consult him for care and counsel.  Dr. Phillips’ possession of the golden cane represents a credit to his fellow physicians and is a justifiable tribute to him.  The award takes on a new significance.  We congratulate him.”  

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For Dr. Phillips, becoming a physician wasn’t inspired by a single moment or person. You might say it is part of his nature – because if you ask him, it was always a defining part of his life. 

“I can remember from my earliest days,” he says.

“You know, people ask you what you want to be, and I think I always said I wanted to be a doctor. I’ve never really thought of anything else. And if I weren’t a doctor, I honestly don’t know what I’d be doing.”

Perhaps it isn’t surprising – his family has a strong medical background. His father was a dentist, his mother a nurse, and his two uncles and grandfather were doctors. Dr. Phillips likes to joke that his lifelong commitment to medicine took a weight off of his five younger siblings and their cousins. 

“Once I said I’d be the doctor, no one else had to do that,” he says, laughing. “I was going to be the doctor out of our generation. They were all free to do whatever they wanted.”

Dr. Phillips never wavered from his vision and began his journey to becoming a physician in Fort Worth shortly after graduating from high school – but he didn’t necessarily plan to stay here. 

“I never thought I’d be spending my life in Texas,” he says. “I think of myself as a West Coast kind of guy.”

After graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in biology from Texas Wesleyan University in 1970, he attended medical school at UT Southwestern in Dallas, and completed his residency in internal medicine at the St. Louis University Medical School in Missouri. It was when he began a fellowship in clinical nutrition at the University of California Davis that Dr. Phillips hit a bump in the road. 

“I went to California, thinking I would take this fellowship and stay in academics, but the state of California ran out of money in 1978; as a result, the medical school eliminated the entire clinical nutrition program,” says Dr. Phillips. “I found a job in Fort Worth that year in 1979, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Though he has been in private practice since coming back to Texas, Dr. Phillips has still been involved in the educational side of medicine through Tarrant County’s two local medical schools—he is an adjunct clinical professor of medicine at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at UNT and an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Anne Burnett Marion School of Medicine at TCU.

Though it was a deviation from his original academic plans, Dr. Phillips has found his work as in internist incredibly rewarding. Throughout his career he has built a thriving practice that has fostered long-term relationships with patients and given him ample opportunity to exercise his passion for nutrition and preventative healthcare. 

“I didn’t even know what internal medicine was when I started medical school,” says Dr. Phillips. “I knew I wanted to be a doctor and had spent summers working as a surgical orderly here in Fort Worth at one of the hospitals, so I knew that I didn’t want anything to do with surgery. So then, when you go through training in medical school, you realize that there’s this whole specialty called ‘internal medicine.’ You don’t do operations, you don’t deliver babies, you don’t see kids. It’s all adult primary care medicine. Once I realized that was an actual specialty, that was what I decided that I wanted to do.” 

Dr. Phillips smiles. “It’s almost like they made that specialty just for me.”

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While he impacts the Tarrant County community every day by caring for his patients, Dr. Phillips’ dedicated involvement in organized medicine gives him a much broader reach. Beyond his TMA and TCMS membership, he is a member of the American Heart Association, American College of Physicians, National Lipid Association, and the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC).

“My friend who was presenting about the ABC at a meeting was saying, ‘If you care for minority and underrepresented populations, you should join our organization,’” Dr. Phillips explains, noting that it might seem odd that he is a member of the Association of Black Cardiologists when he is neither Black nor a cardiologist. “But Dr. Ferdinand said, ‘You don’t have to be a cardiologist; you don’t even have to be Black. You can join our organization.’”

So that’s what Dr. Phillips did. 

“It’s just one example of getting involved with an organization that has part of its mission to see what it can do to help healthcare for disadvantaged, disenfranchised populations,” he says. 

Throughout his work in organized medicine, Dr. Phillips has served in numerous roles, including as our 2016 TCMS president and as a Project Access volunteer. He has sat on many boards and committees, including the Board of Directors for the American College of Physicians Texas Chapter, the Southwest Lipid Association, and the Recovery Resource Council. 

Eric Niedermayer, CEO of the Recovery Resource Council, says that Dr. Phillips has had a tremendous impact on the organization, which is focused on fostering wellness and recovery for those struggling with addiction and trauma.

“[Dr. Phillips] has truly given of his time, talents, and resources every year,” he says. “During the summer of 2022, he helped the Council’s Overdose response team obtain $100,000 of Narcan to distribute to survivors of fentanyl and other opioid overdoses by providing the necessary authorization for this life-saving intervention . . . To me, he is a person I can count on to do whatever he can whenever he is asked to help. That makes him a rare find for any non-profit that is always faced with new challenges or opportunities.”

He uses the same approach for each organization he has joined – if he is going to be a member, he is going to be involved. This is what eventually led to one of his career highlights: from 1990 to 1991, he served as the president of the Texas Affiliate of the American Heart Association, and he was then appointed to the American Heart Association’s National Board of Directors from 1993 to 1995. 

“So this little kind of average internal medicine doctor from Fort Worth would have no business there,” says Dr. Phillips. “I don’t do research; I don’t write grants. I’m not the chairman at the department of a famous medical school. But I’m at these meetings with all of these famous people. And it’s because I demonstrated a commitment to the mission of the organization and showed that I participate and help whatever needs to be helped.”

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While medicine is certainly a passion for Dr. Phillips, it isn’t the cap on his interests. He loves supporting the arts and is especially involved in sponsoring local efforts. He is a patron of both the Circle Theatre and Bruce Wood Dance.

“It’s also been very rewarding because I’m not in any way an artistically talented person, but being able to work with the theater group or the dance company . . . to support their work with both time and money, is something that I’ve been able to do,” Dr. Phillips says.

He has also been an active member of Texas Wesleyan University’s Board of Trustees for over ten years, and he is currently serving on their Executive Committee. Much like his interest in the arts, Dr. Phillips views this as a way to broadly make an impact for good through the value his alma mater brings to its students and the greater Fort Worth community. Dr. Tom Cockerell, his former neighbor and longtime friend, says that civic involvement has always been a priority for Dr. Phillips, alongside his work in medicine.

“Through the years Greg has been able to continually balance a busy practice with family and civic and professional leadership demands at the local and national level,” says Dr. Cockerell. “Anyone who knows Greg admires his amiable nature, his recognition of and loyalty to important enterprises, and his good sense.”

Though he says his hobby is going to meetings, Dr. Phillips also enjoys playing golf when he has the chance. But between his practice and the different groups he is involved in, he always makes time for his family. 

“I save my time off to go be with them,” says Dr. Phillips. 

Whether it’s visiting his son, Lauren, in Lubbock; or his daughter, Karen, her spouse, Kyle, and his two grandchildren, Elodie and Ezra, in Santa Fe; getting to spend time with them is the highlight of his year. 

As Dr. Phillips looks to the future, two things are very clear to him: he wants to keep practicing medicine and fighting for equity. 

“I don’t have a plan to retire,” he says. “And I do think that people in the profession who do have time and financial resources and influence to try bringing the whole population up is something to try to focus on. I don’t know exactly where I fit into that whole puzzle, but I hope that during the rest of my career that can be one of the priorities that I have – to continue working on improving the healthcare of people who have been disadvantaged for so long.”

It is Dr. Phillips’ legacy of driven yet compassionate care for the patients of Tarrant County that has led his colleagues to recognize him as the 2022 Gold-Headed Cane recipient. With much appreciation for his service, past, present, and future, we congratulate Dr. Phillips as “the Doctor’s Doctor.”

“Thank You”

by Teresa Godbey, MD
2020 Gold-Headed Cane Recipient

This piece was originally published in the November/December issue of the Tarrant County Physician. You can read find the full magazine here.

Let me start and finish by saying “thank you.” Receiving the Gold-Headed Cane is a humbling experience for me, because I am not really a scientist, nor procedurally gifted, not an expert in any particular field of Medicine, have never published a scholarly article, and am not even currently on the front line of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. It’s been several years since I got out of bed to come to the hospital in the middle of the night, and even then it was often to call in the person who would do the procedure or make the decision that would be critical for our patients. 

With a B.A. in English literature and a lot of courses in languages, I came late to the realization that I needed to apply to medical school. And I would not have done so had I not had a mother who was willing to keep an infant son so I could start all those math and science prerequisites, and a father who’d made it possible for her to be a stay-at-home mother and grandmother. So thanks to my wonderful parents. This decision to go into Medicine seemed to some like an abrupt change of pursuit, but for me, the unifying theme between my undergraduate studies and the practice of Medicine has been the privilege of learning people’s stories.  In practicing Medicine, one can even help to bring about a plot twist or be a minor character in the story . . . but to hear what came before from disparate walks of life, then facilitate the ability of the patient to make their story unfold has been my motivation. 

Some of those stories still make me smile years later.  The patient who volunteered to run a small cemetery in a tiny town was at the cemetery when the grave for her mother, who had died at 103, was freshly dug. She met a young couple visiting in search of ancestral lore. In the process of helping them find a headstone of interest, she managed to back up and fall into her mother’s grave, sustaining a tib-fib fracture. Somehow, she managed to laugh at and see the mythic overtones of that painful experience.  So many patients have shared their triumphs in life with me, with luck as well as gumption helping us all along the way. Sometimes luck is better than gumption. There was the decision to call a surgeon to see a middle-aged man, to remove a large obstructive right colon mass even though this mass, surely a malignancy, must have metastasized given its dimensions.  The surgery was going to be diagnostic and palliative but proved curative when a plastic cocktail sword was found at the center of a large inflammatory mass. 

Then there are the gut-wrenching stories of loss and the staggering abilities of some people to keep putting one foot in front of the other . . . the woman who witnessed one of her sons shoot and kill another. How she managed to grieve the loss of one of her boys, while still being a mother to the one who went to prison astounds me to this day.  I can only hope that allowing her to relate this to me was in some way beneficial to her, but her strength and grace were such that I’m not sure I was needed.

It can be discouraging now to practice in an environment of corporate intrusion, such as to be told on which shelf the lubricant must be kept in the exam room, or to be coached to attest to diagnoses based on flimsy or inaccurate data. There are those of you who are gifted with a scalpel, a scope, a cath; those who can calm the chaos of the ER for a quiet moment to see a diagnosis coalesce.  I suspect those abilities make it easier to keep a sense of purpose, so for those of us who are PCPs, let this be my plea. Hear the patient. Hear their story. See them. Feel them. There are times that I hear from a patient, “That doctor just came to the door, and never even examined me.” So yes, I know that current guidelines put ever less emphasis on certain parts of the physical exam, but please, keep honing your skills. The time spent on physical exam may not all be of value statistically. But when the unnecessary oral exam or rectal exam turns up a cancer, it changes your story as well as the patient’s. Plus, the patient who gets a rectal exam won’t tell someone else that you just came to the door. For those of us in primary care, using our senses is the only way we can, so to speak, change the ending. 

And now, a few more people to thank: Dr. Stephen Eppstein, for driving from Fort Worth to Dallas on the one day of the week he could have relaxed a little, to be the town attending for my Internal Medicine rotation in 1984 . The town attending is the one you can ask the questions you might be embarrassed to ask your regular attending, like: Why aren’t there viral UTIs when there’s viral everything else?  Dr. Kendra Belfi, the first female internist I really got to know, and who took such good care of my mother and my aunt.  All the wonderful doctors in the Texas Club of Internists with whom I’ve enjoyed education and recreation over the years: thanks for waiting until the old guard died off so you could finally change the bylaws and let women in—in 1997. My son, Noah Boydston, for turning out mostly OK, and loving me even though I was away so much when he was little.  Oh, and if you have to wait until age 48 to meet the love of your life, Leighton Clark was worth the wait. Thank you all. 

The Doctor’s Doctor

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.