J.M. Vandavell, M.D

Dr. Vandavell grew up in Tennessee, and graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1884, and moved to Waco. He was the second African-American physician in the state of Texas, and the first in Waco. His wife, Anna, later wrote the story of Dr. Vandavell’s medical practice, and her written story was reproduced many years later in Dr. Garry Radford’s book, “African-American Heritage in Waco, Texas,” published in 2000.

She writes that her husband “came to Waco during the summer of 1884 and opened an office in the rear of a white drugstore located at the corner of Fifth and Austin streets… I have seen Dr. Vandavell perform more than one emergency operation on a kitchen table by the light of a smoky oil lamp, with no disinfectants except the only means of sterilizing was iodifoam and carbolic acid… Often Dr. Vandavell had to leave his buggy by the side of a mud hole, get on his horse, and ride through the bad places to reach his patients. In certain cases, he would sometimes have to sit up all night without a decent chair or a bed on which to rest.”

“County people seldom called a doctor until the patient was at death’s door, so every call was urgent. Most of these calls were at night, which them the more dangerous, especially those out toward Cedar Brakes and Lovers Leap; this part of the country was deeply wooded, and the vines and undergrowth almost met overhead, thus intensifying the darkness. The roads were uneven with rough logs for bridges over the worst gullies and bad places. Panthers and wildcats and sometimes mountain lions were reported to be seen lurking in this vicinity. When we had calls out that way at night, I had to drive while the doctor held his gun in readiness.”

“For nearly nine years, Dr. Vandavall labored thus night and day. Then his health failed him completely.” J.M. Vandavell died in 1893.

Lauren Barron, M.D.

The story of Lauren Barron isn’t easy, since she has worn many hats, served the Waco medical community in so many ways, and no small article can capture her character, creativity, compassion, and capacity. I’ve known her as my mentor, teacher, colleague and friend for 20 years, and she constantly amazes with her new pursuits and passions.

Lauren grew up in Houston, came to Waco to get her degree in Psychology/Honors at Baylor, returned to Houston for her medical school at UT Houston, returned to Waco for her residency at the Family Health Center (then FPC), where she was chief resident with Mike Hardin in 1995, and was asked to stay on as faculty. In her seven years on faculty, she did a fellowship in academic medicine and explored her interest in palliative care, while teaching family medicine residents. She next joined the Hillcrest Family Medicine Clinic in Hewitt for the next eight years. During this time, she did comprehensive family medicine care, served as chief of staff for Hillcrest Hospital, worked as the medical director for Hillcrest Hospice, and began to teach part-time in Baylor’s Medical Humanities Program. Feeling the call, she switched over to full-time professor and associate director of Medical Humanities at Baylor where she is today, while continuing a part-time clinical practice at the Family Health Center.

All this while enjoying her husband Dale and having great pride in her sons, exploring and performing her music, loving travel, art, cooking, baseball and gardening, reading a wide variety of books, and serving as a leader in her church.

What are you doing as a professor at Baylor?

Our mission is to prepare students for medical training with more than only science. They need to be equipped with wisdom about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the power of the doctor-patient relationship, and a deep understanding of the sacred nature of a vocation in medicine.

How do you feel things are in Waco medicine today?  

I think that many of the forces that have changed medicine in other parts of the country have finally made it to Waco, where we have been relatively insulated until very recently. I think that we need to work to make sure physicians know each other by name and that our allegiance is first and foremost to our patients and our profession and not to systems or structures.

What do you hope to see happen in the future?

I hope that we will find a way as a society to encourage healthier habits and design communities that would support healthier lifestyles. I wish more people in Waco could understand the tragedy of the plague that is poverty in Waco—it is so easy for so many to avoid having to confront the massive gap between the rich and poor in Waco. In terms of the day to day practice of medicine, I hope that we can recognize the need to protect and extend time between doctors and patient, because I believe that time is even more valuable than technology in healthcare.

If there is one message you’d give to today’s physician, what would it be?

There is no profession I can think of that requires your hands, your head and your heart like medicine. It is a tremendous privilege to study medicine. The current crisis in healthcare makes connecting with that privilege and keeping patients at the center of our work challenging. But ours is an ancient tradition and the blessings far exceed the burdens of a life in medicine.


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