Dr. Graham Jeffries marks 45 years of service to Penn State College of Medicine
When Dr. Graham Jeffries came to Hershey in July 1969 as one of the first academic faculty members, there was no hospital, only part of the signature Crescent building had been built and the three classes of medical students had to be taught in Harrisburg.
Jeffries, who became Penn State College of Medicine’s founding chair of the Department of Medicine, had not been particularly interested in leaving his job on the Cornell faculty at New York Hospital, but a visit to the new campus and meeting with George Harrell, the College of Medicine’s first dean, changed his mind.
“George had vision, and I realized that it would be exciting to start from the ground up,” he said. The medical school had students, but no faculty. When the hospital was built, it had an emergency room, but no house staff: “We all took turns being on call at night.”
They quickly recruited faculty to develop research programs. The hospital opened its doors to patients, and that generated money to support the faculty.
“Things developed slowly, but it was an exciting time,” he said.
At 86, Jeffries is the only active founding chairman left at Penn State Hershey – “I guess I chose my parents well,” – and was recently recognized for 45 years of service. Officially retired from the university, he still serves as a professor emeritus of medicine and works for the hospital.
“If you enjoy what you do, why retire?” he asked. “Whatever it is that you do, if you stop doing it, you lose it. If I weren’t doing this, I’d have to find something else.”
He now works only half time, which gives him time to do other things. One of his passions is teaching medical students, so he spends time in the second-year anatomy class twice a week.
Monday mornings, he supervises fellows in the gastroenterology clinic.
“They are reasonably bright and already well-trained, so they teach me a lot,” he said. “Education is a two-way street.”
Thursday mornings, he sees patients he has followed for 30 years or more in a general medicine clinic on West Campus.
“I think the balance between teaching and patient care and research has been very good here,” he said. “The underlying thing is that patients get superb care and students and residents get superb training. And yes, you get some research done as well.”
Jeffries also enjoys reading applications for the medical school and interviewing prospective students.
“Most of my learning I do from the residents and students,” he said. “I also like to make sure they are going into medicine for the right reasons — not because they want to make a lot of money or because their daddy was a doctor — but because they are interested in helping others.”
When Jeffries attended medical school in the 1940s, there were drugs to treat cancer and antibiotics were just appearing. The only pain medications were aspirin and opium derivatives. There was no such thing as molecular biology or genetics.
“There has been an explosion of information in the basic and clinical sciences,” he said.
He marvels at the fact that the medical school has graduated more than 1,000 physicians who are working around the country.
“A lot of programs have an environment that is a little cutthroat,” he said. “I think you need to be in an environment where the people you are working with are caring and sharing. I think we have more of that.”
He gives credit for early development of the organization to a number of people. “It wasn’t a one-man show,” he said. “You built on the shoulders of others and worked collaboratively.”
Jeffries has watched the organization get bigger over the years. “I don’t know whether that’s so good,” he said. “There was a time where we were one close-knit family. Now we are a very large community with a quarter-mile between East and West campus.”
Yet he said the essence of the organization hasn’t changed. “That relationship between a physician and a patient, I think that is still the critical piece,” he said. “I think there is a lot of emphasis here on the factors that go into the quality of life and what we can do to improve that.”
He is proud of the important research that goes on here, as well as the quality of interaction between students and faculty.
“I don’t have a lot of comparison, but I think the quality of interaction between students and faculty is remarkably different here,” he said. “Those who work at this hospital, they care. You don’t always have that, and that’s one reason I have stayed here.”
- Jennifer Vogelsong