I just said goodbye to one of the giants that walked the hallowed halls before me and taught me some of my foundational lessons as a doctor. Dr George Paulson, former Chair of the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State University, made his mark on me, and many others.
On The Ohio State, where was the founding Chairman of the Department. On the field of Neurology in which he published 300 articles. On a huge number of patients, on whom he endlessly shared his time and energy. On a family, where he was the same authentic gentleman off stage, as well as on stage. On history, where he recorded the history of the The Ohio State University Medical Center. On The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, where he left part of his heart.
He reaffirmed the quiet pursuit of good work, love for others and unity with our world is the timeless hero’s journey that the best of us seek. He overcame his ego to find wholeness in all he did. Where data plus experience equals wisdom, George was a sage.
And for many young physicians, he demonstrated healing and servant leadership. He cared, deeply about all that came into his presence - human, animal and nature. He once instructed his family to call everyone “Mr” with the implicit understanding that no matter our appearance, our standard of living or our skin color, we all deserve being seen with the same dignity.
But the single story I have to remember George is this. It was a night over 30 years ago where I was the admitting internal medicine resident. It was a very busy night in our Emergency Department and the Neurology resident (in training) was young and relatively inexperienced. This night happened to have an inordinate number of sick, neurology patients that were coming in a rapid stream.
This trainee was struggling to keep up. George was the Neurology faculty on call, and was guiding her through many issues on the phone. He sensed the growing anxiety of this overwhelmed trainee. Suddenly, about 3:30 a.m., George came into the Emergency Room, in a button-up shirt and cardigan and asked what the trainee would have him do to help out.
The first smile of the night crossed the resident’s face and the trainee’s relief was visceral. George worked shoulder-to-shoulder on this night as a helper, even though he was Chair of the Department.
On that night I learned that real leadership looked like.
Not belittling. Not condescending. Not complaining. Not hierarchical.
Caring. Serving. Helping. Loving. Connecting.
That was George. He was authentic and so well cast as a doctor. As a healer. With his family. With his patients. With his trainees.
Quiet excellence. Servant leadership. A gentleman. A role model. A giant.
The word “doctor” means to teach.
That night Dr George Paulson taught me plenty without ever really saying a word to me, other than hello and of course, his good wishes.
He taught me that being a healer is more than our medical tools or diagnoses. It is about our hearts, our caring and our love for others.
It is a lesson I remember to this day.
Thank you George. We just lost one of our best.
Until we meet again.
Goodbye, and godspeed.