Who’s the Doc?

Dr. Jan Gurley, a board-certified internist physician, is the only Harvard Medical School graduate to have been awarded a Shoney’s Ten-Step Pin for documented excellence in waitressing. Having achieved this pinnacle of greatness early in life, Doc Gurley inevitably spiraled downward. Jaded, and afraid of becoming known as a waitressing has-been, she tried years of basic science research in labs (graduating magna cum laude from Harvard), then did a residency at UCSF in Internal Medicine, then received a Robert Wood Johnson Fellowship (Stanford/UCSF Joint Program) in epidemiology, public health and public policy. Like many teen-waitress-celebrities, Doc Gurley eventually matured enough to realize there could be more to her life than a polyester apron, an order pad and a pitcher of sweet tea.* Her health/science background covers the vast territory from sub-cell systems, to human studies, to the captivating science of seeing patients one-on-one. She is microscopically-famous within the airless halls of cloistered Medicine for three things – 1) for being the first to describe and study a syndrome where the isolated elderly and ill are found helpless/dead in their homes (the Gurley Found Down Study), 2) for being the first to proudly attach her name to the stages of breasts sag-age (the Gurley Stages of Breast Regression), and 3) for writing, producing, and starring in (hey, no one else could be blackmailed into doing it!) that cinematic masterwork, The Lost Tampon video.

Musical Mission Statement: Doc Gurley’s motto when it comes to health writing is: Just A Spoonful of Humor Helps The…well, even without Julie Andrews breaking into song, you get the idea.

Doc Gurley’s health writing has appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Chronicle Sunday magazine, and The L.A. Times. Passionate about the quality of health reporting, she’s even had skewering letters in such diverse platforms as the Washington Post and UK’s Daily Telegraph. Her research has appeared in academic publications including the New England Journal of Medicine.

Obligatory Financial Conflicts of Interest Reporting: none. Nada. Not a penny. Doc Gurley is paid an hourly salary by a city/county government, so she doesn’t even have ties to insurance companies or Medicare/Medicaid. Sigh. Perhaps if Doc Gurley had some conflicts of interest, her kids’ future college years wouldn’t seem so daunting. She doesn’t take money from drug companies, she doesn’t own stock in drug companies, she doesn’t provide links to drugs/drug companies on her website–in fact, if you want to know how she feels about drug companies, read her post “How It Feels To…Meet Satan in the Clinic Hallway.” All that being said, she is a sucker for a free meal (yes, she has been called a cheap date), a sucker for non-profit fundraisers, a sucker for desperate friends who are giving drug talks and need someone in the audience, and a sucker for free drug samples to give to her homeless patients. Those weaknesses (probably well-documented in a Merck flow diagram), and her academic textbook addiction, have all led her to relapse at times on her drug company abstinence program–and (shame) go and listen to a drug company-sponsored dinner-talk. She draws the line there (perhaps a wavering line at times, but a line that does exist). So, no drug company trips, no “honoraria,” no payment for talks she could give, no sponsoring of any kind. Well, except for the flashing, neon-colored Glaxo-Smith-Klein billboard tattooed on her forehead [kidding, folks, just kidding].

So what’s with the “Doc”? Why not the more appropriate Doctor? Well, inside the insane world of healthcare, the formal title of Doctor is often used by staff, and sometimes patients, as a term (at its worst) of disdain, or (at its best) a sign that the Doctor is someone to fear, someone separate from the other members of a healthcare team. Recent medical school grads who insist on being called “Doctor” instead of “Doc” are shooting themselves in the foot. “Hey, Doc” is a term that is used by nurses, clerks, security guards, and, best of all, patients who like and respect you as a physician. It’s a phrase that builds bridges instead of creating distance. It’s an insider’s term of affection, and the one Doc Gurley is most proud to be called.

*She is also a prior Bobby Jones Scholar, and, even though she doesn’t play golf, she loves to torture golf-addicts by saying she played the Old Course in St. Andrews…but only the putt-putt holes (even over the Internet she can hear the distant screams of horror).