Physician and writer Dr. Abraham Verghese to occupy distinguished chair in medicine

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Abraham Verghese, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon.), a well-known author and internist who leads the effort to integrate the humanities into the teaching of medical students, will be the first faculty member to occupy the Dr. Joaquin G. Cigarroa, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Medicine at the Health Science Center. Dr. Verghese also is the Marvin Forland, M.D., Distinguished Professor in Medical Ethics.

“Dr. Abraham Verghese represents the finest in medical skills and extraordinary compassion for his patients. His impact on our students is felt every day, as he inspires them to be the kind of physician we all want,” said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center. “Dr. Verghese is playing a major role in encouraging our students and residents to look beyond symptoms and diagnoses to the heart of individuals under their care. There could not be a better choice to hold this new distinguished chair.”

A $1 million gift from The Guadalupe and Lilia Martinez Foundation of Laredo made possible the naming of the distinguished chair, which honors longtime Laredo internal medicine specialist Joaquin G. Cigarroa Jr., M.D. President Cigarroa announced the major gift April 5 at the Health Science Center’s Laredo Extension Campus.

The Martinez Family members have been great supporters of education. Mr. Martinez is a retired rancher who now lives in Laredo. His late wife, Lilia, was a school principal and teacher who earned her master’s degree in education. The couple worked to help the underprivileged, and the Guadalupe and Lilia Martinez Resource Center that bears their names provides shelter to the homeless during periods of inclement weather.

Dr. Verghese, a graduate of Madras Medical College in India, obtained a Master of Fine Arts degree from the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. His published work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. His first book, My Own Country, focused on his practice as an infectious diseases specialist and was made into a movie while his second book, The Tennis Partner, focused on the problem of drug addiction. Both books are widely taught in colleges and medical schools. Dr. Verghese holds the rare distinction of being board certified in three specialties: internal medicine, pulmonary medicine and infectious diseases. Dr. Verghese’s expertise in infectious diseases is of particular significance in the South Texas/Border Region, because diseases such as drug-resistant tuberculosis disproportionately affect the region.

Dr. Verghese is the director of The Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the Health Science Center and recently inaugurated a series titled “The Arts in the Art of Medicine” with an on-stage conversation with Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa. The event attracted 400 people to the Health Science Center on April 4. “I am honored to be named to the Dr. Joaquin G. Cigarroa, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Medicine,” Dr. Verghese said. “Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa exemplifies the kind of practice of internal medicine I aspire to, which places great emphasis on bedside skills, which in turn allows for the judicious use of costly (and potentially dangerous) investigations. I hold up that style of practice as a model to our students.”

Dr. Verghese has just been elected to Mastership in the American College of Physicians and to membership in the American Association of Physicians.

Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa received his medical degree and his training in internal medicine from Harvard University and returned to start a practice in Laredo. After 50 years of dedicated service, he continues to serve Laredo and Webb County and treats at least 40 patients a day. Dr. Cigarroa is a previous member of many important state boards and has received many awards and honors in his long career.

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