In Memoriam: Howard Spiro, MD (1924 – 2012)

I first met Howard Spiro, MD in 1980 when I applied for a position in the Department of Gastroenterology he established at Yale in 1954.   He brilliantly blended encyclopedic knowledge (he wrote one of the major textbooks in the field singlehanded), superb clinical skills and droll wit.  I really wanted to learn from him and thought I might have a chance when I was the only person on rounds that day (apart from him) to know the cause of an abnormality on a patient’s x-ray.  Alas, it was not to be and I completed my training at UCLA instead.

After a 1982 sabbatical in Behavioral Science at Stanford he returned to Yale, established their program on Humanities in Medicine and began writing books that emphasized their importance in clinical care.  My personal favorite is Empathy and the Practice of Medicine, a series of essays about a skill fundamental to my own work.

As my own book was being prepared for publication in 2007, I wondered what he would think of it and concluded that, favorable or not, his impression would be one I would respect the most.  But when I requested via email that he review the manuscript I assumed he would decline since he was still teaching even at age 83.  I was pleasantly surprised when he not only read it but offered an endorsement for the back cover.  Few individuals in health care could benefit their patients with both technological and empathic skill at such a high level.  It was an honor to have met him.