By Barbara Anderson
UCSF Clinical Professor of Neurology Harrol T. (Terry) Hutchison, MD, PhD, says humility is something physicians need to learn, and he has taught it, by example, by emphasizing respectful and responsive patient care as he teaches medical residents and students at UCSF Fresno.
Dr. Hutchison, a child and adult neurologist, is renowned for taking extra time with patients, giving out his personal cellphone number and answering after-hours calls even when he’s not the on-call physician.
Listen to this article:
“He does more than most in terms of getting to know patients’ needs, trying to help patients, trying to be reachable and approachable,” says Mark Stecker, MD, UCSF Fresno clinical professor of neurology and chief of neurology at UCSF Fresno. “Dr. Hutch,” as most call him, treats patients like family, Dr. Stecker says. “Students want to train with ‘Hutch’ to learn how to provide that level of care.”
National Honor for ‘Dr. Hutch’
Dr. Hutchison received the Child Neurology Society’s 2019 Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award this month at the society meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. The award recognizes his extraordinary and ongoing humanism in his medical career. The award is named for the late Arnold P. Gold, MD, who is considered a founder of modern child neurology.
Dr. Hutchison says he’s honored to receive the award. He estimates he’s had 40,000 encounters with medical residents and students in nearly 40 years of teaching. “If I’ve influenced students positively in some way, that’s very rewarding,” he says.
The honor given Dr. Hutchison is well deserved, Dr. Stecker says. “He has taught so many people how to be great doctors by showing them that for him, it is only about taking care of patients.”
Serena Yang, MD, UCSF Fresno chief of pediatrics, says Dr. Hutchison goes to extraordinary lengths to help patients – and learners. “He is humble, and always welcoming to learners. He is a role model of compassionate bedside manner, demonstrates patient- and family-centered care, and is a passionate advocate for the highest quality of care for his patients.”
Dr. Hutchison is very worthy of the Gold Humanism Award in Child Neurology, says Audrey Foster-Barber, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, UCSF associate professor and vice-chair for education in the Department of Neurology.
Foster-Barber, the Child Neurology Society’s 2018 Gold Humanism in Medicine awardee, says Dr. Hutchison has been a mentor and guide in her career.
“He has so much knowledge and experience, but that is not what makes him amazing. What families see is a doctor who gets to know them and their child, who makes sure they understand what is going on medically, who fights for their treatments, and who really cares. Hutch knows what parents do for their jobs, how siblings feel about the sick child, what the family pet is named, and what makes the patient smile. He will break rules to get things done, and is available to his patients in a way no currently trained neurologist would ever consider doing!”
Hutch’s Pearls of Wisdom
Audrey Brumback, MD, PhD, an assistant professor and child neurologist at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas in Austin, has known Dr. Hutchison for more than a decade. “This award was basically made for people like Hutch,” Dr. Brumback says.
During residency at UCSF, Dr. Hutchison was Dr. Brumback’s attending physician in child neurology. “In medicine, we talk about ‘pearls of wisdom’ — little kernels of knowledge you want to keep with you, and Hutch was just brimming over with ‘pearls of wisdom,’” she says.
“He has taught so many people how to be great doctors by showing them that for him, it is only about taking care of patients.” — Dr. Mark Stecker
Dr. Hutchison taught at UCSF from 2005 to 2011. Besides those six years in San Francisco, he has been faculty at UCSF Fresno since 1983.
Donna Ferriero, MD, MS, a UCSF emeritus distinguished professor on recall, was a third-year medical student when Dr. Hutchison was a pediatrics resident at UCSF. She was leaning toward adult neurology but changed to child neurology after observing Dr. Hutchison’s interaction with pediatric patients. “He’s 100 percent invested when he sees patients and he teaches people how to be that way, too.”
Genetics, Pediatrics, Neurology, and Rehabilitation, Too
Besides being board certified in child neurology and pediatrics, Dr. Hutchison is board certified in clinical genetics and neuro-rehabilitation. In addition to residencies in pediatrics and neurology at UCSF, he completed a doctorate in molecular biology at the University of California, Irvine, and a postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at the University of Washington. His medical degree is from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
“I don’t know anybody with as many certifications and degrees as Hutch — genetics, pediatrics, neurology, and rehabilitation,” Dr. Ferriero says.
Dr. Hutchison was the first neurologist in the country to commercially deliver Spinraza, the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration drug approved to treat children and adults with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare and often fatal genetic disease affecting muscle strength and movement, Dr. Brumback says. “He has such a wide-ranging expertise and he is just so incredibly humble about it.”
Building Relationships With Patients
Dr. Hutchison insists humility is something he had to learn and continues to develop.
As a boy and young man, he did not like people much, he says, “I got kind of picked on in some places and ignored in other ways — marginalized, if you will. Not that it was anybody’s fault but my own.” In medical school, he relied on scientific and mathematical abilities rather than social skills to make his way, but a course in Introduction to Patient Evaluation proved life-changing.
He had to learn to be objective with patients and with himself, which included discarding personal biases. “I almost failed the course,” he says. But I finally got through it and spent a year or two learning, and then I developed a style of interaction with patients that has not changed,” he says. “I’ve been very proud of that, and I hone and improve it as time goes on.”
Concentrating on the needs of patients without superimposing personal judgments on them is critical to patient care, but Dr. Hutchison understands it can be difficult. He recalls being so angry at a family member of a patient that it took a two-hour walk before he could set aside his feelings, but “I don’t think he ever knew how furious I was with him,” he says.
His patients are his “boys and girls,” regardless of age — and some are in their 70s and 80s. He has been known to make a house call once in a great while, and he’s only a cellphone call away. He made a decision years ago to give all his patients his telephone number. He doesn’t regret it. Other than a couple of people who have called at 3 a.m., he says, “I’ve rarely ever had anybody who abuses it.”
Fueled by Patient Hugs and Teaching
To relax – when he is not teaching, seeing patients or answering patient phone calls — he spends time with Ruth, his wife of 59 years, his three children, nine grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. He has a 2-acre pecan farm and built an apparatus that separates pecans from debris.
“This award was basically made for people like Hutch.” — Dr. Audrey Brumback
Hugs from long-time patients revitalize him, he says, and so does seeing young students who aspire to be physicians. Jasmean Mann, a UC Merced graduate, recently spent a few weeks shadowing him.
“She’s going to be a great doctor,” he says. “She has a heart and an ability to think and understand. I’m really proud of her. In the future I can see great things for her.”
Mann, a San Joaquin Valley native, wanted to leave the Valley for a medical education, but the time she spent with Dr. Hutchison at UCSF Fresno changed her mind. “He connects with patients,” she says. “And the more exposure I had with him and to the patients and the problems that are specific to Fresno, versus somewhere else, the more I want to come back here.”
Acknowledgments by colleagues, students, and the Child Neurology Society are gratifying, but Dr. Hutchison finds rewards every day from teaching medical residents.
“You ask me what rejuvenates me? “It’s seeing people that are moving ahead and maybe benefitting from some of my teaching,” he says.
UCSF Fresno is fortunate to have Dr. Hutchison among 285 core faculty who teach more than 300 physicians annually, says Dr. Stecker. “There’s not enough good things to say about Hutch.”