G. Gayle Stephens, M.D., FAAFP, of Birmingham, Ala., died Feb. 20 at age 85. Considered one of the preeminent champions of the specialty and a fierce advocate of family medicine's role in reforming and reshaping the face of medicine, Stephens had been a member of the AAFP since 1959.
“Medicine is a moral vocation that is practiced best when patients have a personal physician who can help them get what they need from the larger system in a manner that does not demean or exploit them, a personal physician who is able and willing to attend to their patients’ life experiences and individual preferences.”
— G. Gayle Stephens, M.D., FAAFP
Stephens began his medical studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, graduating with a bachelor's degree in medicine in 1950. He completed his matriculation at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, where he received his medical doctorate in 1952. After completing an internship at Wesley Hospital in Wichita, Kan., Stephens was commissioned a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, where he served from 1953-55.
A staunch proponent of top-quality medical education, Stephens founded one of the first residencies for the then-new discipline of family medicine at Wesley Hospital -- now Wesley Medical Center -- in 1967. He was named professor and chair of the Department of Family Practice at Wichita State University in 1972 and became the founding dean of the School of Primary Medical Care at the University of Alabama in Huntsville the following year. Stephens later was named chair of the Department of Family Practice at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham, retiring from that institution in 1988 as professor emeritus.
In retirement, Stephens continued in his role as associate editor of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine and remained active in the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM), having served as the society's president in 1973-75. He was accorded numerous honors during his lifetime. Among them were the AAFP's Thomas Johnson Award for Excellence in Family Practice Education in 1975, STFM's Certificate of Excellence in 1980, the Academy's John G. Walsh Founder's Award in 1996, and STFM's Marian Bishop Award in 2005. In 2006, Stephens was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science.
Stephens' 1982 book, The Intellectual Basis of Family Practice, is included in "The Distinguished Dozen: Twelve Books That Shaped the Face of Family Medicine" collection held by the AAFP Foundation's Center for the History of Family Medicine. In 2010, Stephens donated his papers to the Center, which now houses an extensive collection that includes his correspondence and professional papers, published and unpublished works, speeches, lecture notes, awards, and other materials. More information about the Center's many collections is available online(www.aafpfoundation.org).