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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”