Who, What, Where | John Saultz, MD

John Saultz, MD, received the Thomas W. Johnson Award for Career Contributions to Family Medicine Education this week at FMX. Saultz chaired the Department of Family Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland for 17 years before stepping down in 2016. He still teaches and provides full-scope patient care.

Before this year's FMX, Saultz talked about a person, place and thing that had greatly impacted his career. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

John Saultz, MD

John Saultz, MD

WHO: Sherrie Saultz

We've been married for 41 years, have three children and six grandchildren. The fact is that without that foundation, I would not have been able to accomplish anything professionally. Sherrie has enhanced my career in a lot of ways, not just being a good partner but being a good source of advice. She reads almost everything that I write and gives me uniquely valuable feedback. I trust her judgment about people. Everything one does professionally is built on the soundness of the rest of his or her life, and my wife has been responsible for that in our family.

We started dating when we were 16 and married the week after we got our undergraduate degrees, two weeks before I started medical school at Ohio State. The original plan when I got into medicine was to be a small-town doctor. The academic medicine life took a lot of forbearance from her, and certainly moving to Oregon in 1986 after seven years in the military, a long way from our families in Ohio, was a lot to ask of her.

WHAT: My father's illness

When I was in junior high school, my father became very ill, and he almost died. He lost a lot of weight, and had a whole litany of maladies. Over a period of 5-6 years, his doctors couldn't figure out why. About the fourth or fifth doctor that he saw diagnosed celiac disease. The doctor told my dad that all he had to do was not eat wheat, rye, and barley. He improved and lived for 40 years after his diagnosis. He died two years ago at age 83.

As happy as I was with that outcome, I was really furious with his physicians. If my father hadn't been sick, I'd probably be a college math professor today.

To be truly great at our profession, you have to love and hate it at the same time. You have to love what it could be and hate its shortcomings. I've spent my career trying to train doctors to go to small towns like the one I grew up in and not screw up when somebody like my father walks through the door. Everything I've written and the students I've taught since then have been fueled by that dissatisfaction. People enter medicine for a lot of different reasons. I have always viewed family medicine as the primary way to change health care in our country.

WHERE: Oregon

I grew up in a little town near Springfield, Ohio wanting to be a teacher, not a physician. I'd never set foot in the Oregon but spent four weeks as a senior medical student at the Army hospital at Ft. Lewis in Washington. After the Army, I was looking to make my mark by training doctors to go to places like Springfield, instead of going to a place like Springfield myself.

OHSU had hired Bob Taylor as chairman. I met Bob when I was a fellow at North Carolina and thought that he could teach me the things I didn't know about academic medicine.

I also needed to be in a place where people aspired to do something great in family medicine. Oregon has lots of small towns with tiny rural hospitals, which means you need family doctors and general surgeons to form a health care system that works. The state tends to listen to its family doctors, and it's been a wonderful partnership.

Oregon is a nice place to live, but I didn't come here for that. I came here because of what I thought family medicine could accomplish here, and that has absolutely proven true.