Andrew T. Simpson, Ph.D. will give the annual Michael E. DeBakey Lecture on May 23, 2019 at 2:00 ET in the Lister Hill Auditorium at the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Simpson is Assistant Professor of History at Duquesne University. He was a Michael E. DeBakey Fellow in the History of Medicine at the NLM in 2017 and is working on a forthcoming book, The Medical Metropolis. Circulating Now interviewed him about his research and upcoming lecture.
Circulating Now: Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
Andrew Simpson: I was born north of Detroit, and have lived in Southern Indiana, Washington, DC, Kansas, and Pittsburgh. I came to academia after working in politics and local government right out of my undergraduate education. At Duquesne University I teach a variety of classes including urban history, environmental history, contemporary U.S. history, and the history of medicine and health care. I get to work with some great students at both the graduate (Master’s) and the undergraduate level, and some really wonderful colleagues. One of more my more interesting recent projects has allowed me to blend my training as a historian with my interest in community engagement and finding present and future focused solutions. This has involved working with students and faculty in the School of Nursing and the Department of Sociology, as well as some fantastic community partners, to examine levels of reproductive health knowledge in young women in an underserved urban neighborhood adjacent to our campus, and then to think about how efforts to improve health knowledge can translate into meaningful and transformative employment in education and health care (Pittsburgh’s largest employment sector).
CN: How did you originally become interested in the History of Medicine? What sparked your interest in Dr. DeBakey’s life and work?
AS: I became interested in the history of medicine after my (now) wife took a job working in rehabilitation medicine when we were living in Washington, DC. I found that she was dealing with fascinating questions, and the only way I could make sense of them was to think about the historical evolution of health care. When we moved to Pittsburgh for my Ph.D., this interest morphed into the academic research that formed the basis for my book, due out in the fall from the University of Pennsylvania Press. The book is titled The Medical Metropolis, and it examines the changing business of health care and its relationship to urban development from the 1940s to the present in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Houston, Texas.
I became interested in Dr. DeBakey while I was conducting research for my book, and spending time in at the archives at the Texas Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine. Because Baylor plays such a critical role in my story, Dr. DeBakey’s name kept coming up as I researched how the changing business of health care unfolded since World War II. As I dug deeper, and interviewed his colleagues like Dr. William T. Butler, I learned just how important Dr. DeBakey was to shaping not only Baylor’s growth, but also how he, along with other physicians and not-for-profit health care and civic leaders, helped to make Houston’s hospitals and medical schools into global destinations and export engines for specialty medicine and medical device innovation.
CN: Tell us a little about the work you will present in your upcoming lecture, “ Michael E. DeBakey and His Influence in the Changing Business of Healthcare and the Delivery of American Medicine“?
AS: In my talk, I will be discussing Dr. DeBakey and the idea of medical entrepreneurship as a key component of the modern business of American health care. When we hear the word entrepreneur, we often think of somebody who is interested in expanding the commercial success of a product or idea. I will argue that while Dr. DeBakey certainly understood the value of commercial success and the role that private markets played in the growth of the American health care industry, he was also an entrepreneur in a broader sense of the word and was concerned with expanding access to specialty care for global and national markets, access to medical devices like the DeBakey VAD, and was committed to finding a health care system that could deliver these services and devices and still allow for the continued expansion and financial security of academic medical centers and medical schools.
CN: Tell us more about Dr. DeBakey’s response to the commercial imperative of American medicine during the late 20th century.
AS: Dr. DeBakey was publicly ambivalent about medical commercialization, but his papers show that he understood and valued at least some degree of commercial initiative in the medical marketplace. He understood that a commercial imperative helped to incentivize discovery and helped to provide revenue for the expansion and stability of large institutions. But, he was wary of too much commercialization, or commercialization for the sake of commercialization. This attitude seems to be in line with other medical entrepreneurs who really tried to negotiate an American health care system that was becoming not just costlier, but also a significant part of local and national economies by the 1990s and the 2000s.
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Andrew Simpson’s presentation is part of our ongoing history of medicine lecture series, which promotes awareness and use of the National Library of Medicine and other historical collections for research, education, and public service in biomedicine, the social sciences, and the humanities. All lectures are live-streamed globally, and subsequently archived, by NIH VideoCasting. Stay informed about the lecture series on Twitter at #NLMHistTalk.