On November 8, 1994, Bill Frist became the first practicing physician elected to the United States Senate since 1928, defeating 18-year incumbent Jim Sasser by a 56-42 margin. Frist also happens to be one of our many distinguished C&H authors, co-editing Grand Rounds in Transplantation with Dr. Harold Helderman, which was published in December 1994.
Frist earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1974, specializing in health care policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In 1978, he graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and went on to specialize in heart and lung transplantation. Performing more than 250 of the demanding procedures, he has become an internationally recognized authority in the field.
Grand Rounds in Transplantation has attempted to take cognizance of the expanding role for transplantation in the university hospital, the community hospital and the medical school, by dealing with the wide range of problems encountered in a vigorous transplant practice using a case-report-driven format. This format allows for single problems to be underscored in the practice of transplant medicine. The distinctive features of this book include issues that encompass a wide experience in transplantation including heart, lung, kidney, liver, and bone marrow transplantation. Equally unique is the inclusion of issues that involve the ethics of transplantation, the psychology of transplantation, and the practice of infectious disease as it applies to transplantation coupled to the usual concerns of immunobiology, immunosuppression, and the management and diagnosis of rejection.
The book culminates a vision of Vanderbilt University to bring the various transplant programs together under the umbrella of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center, which Frist founded, and where he served as Director of the Heart and Heart-Lung Transplantation Program until just prior to the campaign, performing his most recent transplant only eleven months before the election.
Running against entrenched three-term Senator Jim Sasser, a Democrat who sought the Senate majority leader position in his fourth term, Frist ran a campaign focusing on outworking Sasser in the field. "After being out about two or three weeks, just shaking hands through a group, people could feel I could listen. I could pick up what they were saying," Frist said. "That comes from 'bedside manner'-- all those nights in a hospital, one-on-one with patients all day long. It connects."
Now a freshman Senator of the 104th United States Congress, Frist will serve on the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Budget Committee, and Small Business Committee. As the first physician to serve in the Senate in more than half a century, he also is in a unique position to play a key role in a host of issues surrounding the health care reform debate. Frist's first-hand knowledge of medical treatment, Medicare, malpractice law, disability rights and many related subjects, mean his Senate colleagues are likely to pay attention to his views.
Frist has operated literally on the frontier of heart and lung transplantation, and now brings his experiences and mental discipline to Washington. Regarding the distinct change in career plans for the Senator, he replies "the Senate is overwhelming in terms of information, but it is so similar to medicine, where you are working on unknowns all the time. A key to survival for a transplant patient is "surveillance" medicine, i.e. watching and guarding against rejection, infection and other problems that will kill more than a year after an operation. The pressure in the operating room is literally about life and death. If you do a good operation, the patient will live. If it is an inadequate performance, the patient will die. That pressure pushes own toward perfection of technique and sets very high standards if one is to be accountable. If we do our jobs in 1995, a lot of decisions need to be made with ramifications that are equal to a patient whose heart you have just put in, in terms of whether or not they live or die."
Frist has not left the potential for challenges and motivations in the operating room. "The motivation here is to basically improve the lives of others around you. I have committed my life to public service, and public service before was taking care of people through the practice of medicine. The mindset is no different in the United States Senate. Basically, you get in this job to make the world around you better.*"
*Quotes from: Myers, "Is there a doctor in the Senate?," The Hill, May 3 1995, pg. 18
Further Information on Grand Rounds in Transplantation
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