I was returned late last night from a wonderful visit to Abington Pennsylvania where I had the honor of serving as the 33rd Frobese Lecturer at the Abington Hospital outside of Philadelphia. This is an extraordinary tradition started to honor an extraordinary man of medicine. While the Frobese lecturer is usually a medical doctor, the staff broke from that aspect of the tradition to allow a J.D. to join the staff for the purposes of delivering the three speeches associated with Frobese day. It was a great experience not just to get to know the staff of this amazing medical center but to visit this lovely part of the Pennsylvania.
Abington hospital is a testament to the work of not just of George W. Elkins (shown here with Leon H. Gilbert, first secretary to the Board of Trustees) and how an entire community could achieve something essential for their community. The hospital was created after Elkins saw a death of a victim of a car accident due to the long drive to a hospital in Philadelphia. With 50 people, Elkins founded this hospital, which has become an intellectual and medical leader in this field. It is model for what medicine once was and should be in this country – a medical establishment deeply rooted in its community and supported by its neighbors to sustain high quality medical care. The hospital has long maintained outreach programs for the poor and uninsured in the area and played a central role in this community. It has continued to thrive and grow under the leadership of Chief of Staff and Medical Officer Jack Kelly.
The lecture is named after named for Alfred Frobese, Chairman of Surgery and Chief of Staff of the hospital from 1963-1986, who is credited with bringing Abington into the modern era of medical education, and expanding the strength and quality of the medical staff. The lecture is now in the hands of an equally extraordinary surgeon Steven Barrer, Director Neurosciences Institute, and former Chief of Neurosurgery at Abington Hospital in Abington PA.
I stayed at a great little inn in North Wales called the Joseph Ambler Inn. As a history buff, this place was right up my alley. The Inn sits on 12 acres of rolling countryside with a great restaurant and five historic buildings. The land was originally owned by William Penn who, in 1682, 1,000 acres to Richard Pearce. In 1711, 50 acres were sold to William Morgan. Morgan built the original section of the Farmhouse. When Morgan died, the property was sold to Joseph Ambler. The restaurant is located in a stone-bank barn built 1820 and is a wonderful place for breakfast. The staff could not be nicer and more solicitous. I was also privileged to have dinner at the Huntingdon Valley Country Club, which is a gorgeous site going back to the 1800s.
I spoke on a variety of subjects, including emerging cases in torts and medical malpractice from new technology to the criminalization of malpractice to use of growing data banks. It was a fascinating group of doctors and medical staff to have as an audience for these speeches. These are the “boots on the ground” of American medicine — professional struggling with the unprecedented changes occurring in medicine. From new technology to new regulations, the medical profession is going through the greatest changes in the United States since the first established medical schools (technically New Orleans can claim the distinction of the first large scale hospital in 1722 with the Royal Hospital. For Pennsylvanians, the important thing is that they came second and before New York by one year with the establishment of Medical College of Philadelphia was founded in 1765 – New York can claim the first M.D. however in 1770).
The law and medicine evolved together over this history. Within four years after the first medical school program was established, the first law school was established at Litchfield Connecticut (the first law student was a rather poor start—Aaron Burr) (William & Mary can claim the oldest active law school with its establishment in 1779). Today there are roughly 1 million doctors today in the United States with a population of 318 million people. One in four are trained abroad. Now if there are roughly 1 million doctors, how many lawyers are there? When I ask doctors that question I have often gotten figures of 20 million or simply the answer “too many.” The answer is roughly the same number 1.2 million.
Law and medicine has long been a unique (if strained) relationship — much like Remus and Romulus. However, in these changing times, these fields will need to work more closely than ever before if we are to overcome the challenges facing medicine in America. The Frobese lecture was a wonderful vehicle to have that dialogue and to explore ways to resolve questions ranging from “Big Data” to “Big Health” transformations. It was a great honor and a great deal of fun. I cannot thank my friends Dr. Barrer and Dr. Kelly and the great staff of Abington (including Education Director Milly Luciano) for making this such an extraordinary visit. It was a great honor and a great time in Abington.