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2007 Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching: Philip M. Diller

Philip M. Diller, MD, prefers modesty, but according to his peers and his students, he's already accomplished greatness in his field.

Date: 5/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
By: Katie Pence
Phone: (513) 558-4561
Photos By: Andrew Higley

UC ingot   Philip Diller, 50, said he feels much too young to have done anything to deserve recognition.

"I just didn’t expect it at this point in my career," he said, referring to the A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching, which was presented to him during the faculty awards program May 1.

"Since 1961, I’m only the third physician-educator from the College of Medicine to receive the award," he continued with a slight grin. "I realize what an honor it is."

Philip M. Diller, MD
Philip M. Diller, MD

Diller, not only director of UC’s family medicine residency program but also a husband and father of seven in his home life, says he still has a lot to accomplish before standing among medical greats like Sir William Osler, MD, a late-19th century Canadian doctor famed for his emphasis on teaching humanistic patient care.

But Diller’s colleagues and peers think he is already there. In 2006, he was awarded the Exemplary Full-Time Teaching Award by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the 10th recipient of this award in the specialty’s 40-year history.

Jeff Heck, MD, a former UC physician and creator of Shoulder to Shoulder, Inc., an international health care program, works with Diller and the UC residency program to introduce students to medicine in other parts of the world. Diller has helped develop curriculum and orchestrate the program since its beginning in 1991.

Heck said he regards Diller as highly as he does Osler.

"Dr. Diller will be remembered as one of America’s finest physicians," he said.

Diller said his conceptual framework for teaching medicine, which he refers to as the "Art of Medicine Model," was a mixture of influence from his parents—his father was a physician and his mother an art teacher and artist—and the life of Osler, which he learned about after searching library shelves during his graduate work at the University of Chicago.

"During writing breaks, I would browse the library stacks," he said, taking down two large volumes from his office shelves, each worn and with yellowing pages. "That is where I found Cushing’s biography of Osler.

Philip M. Diller with one of his students
Philip Diller enjoys a light moment with one of his students.

"Osler viewed the practice of medicine as a privilege," Diller continued. "He also demonstrated with his life that a true medical education was trans-generational—that timeless lessons about being a doctor are written down by each generation of physicians."

Taking his cue from Osler, Diller has sought to read historical literature about the nature of medicine and what is required to train and be a good physician.

"Many physicians have suggested that we need to focus on man in all his varied contexts of life and learn to tailor our treatments to each patient," he said. "In doing so, the patient becomes our true teacher."

Diller said he seeks to train his residents and students to understand the patient as a person and use that understanding to craft the best care possible. He uses symbols, visuals and easy-to-understand examples to help students absorb these concepts.

"Medicine will always be an art, because of human variation in the patient and the physician," he said. "The art of medicine is often ill-defined, and this leads to gaps in our educational experiences. We want to find those gaps and close them."

Diller is now writing two books, one theoretical and the other practical, explaining the Art of Medicine Model. He’s also offering his own Family Medicine Scholars Program, which he began 15 years ago, that allows medical students to shadow him during his clinical practice and have dinner at his home to discuss a wide range of topics involving the art of medicine.

"I want to infect them with this information like a virus that will stay with them their whole career," he said.

But whether talking to students over dinner or inside a classroom, Diller is well known and well respected for his work.

Many call him "friend."

"As he is to so many of his graduating residents, Dr. Diller is much more than my former residency director," said Andrew Bazemore, MD, now assistant director for the Robert Graham Center at the American Academy of Family Physicians. "He is a dear friend and mentor whose counsel I still seek frequently."

M. Bain Butcher, MD, was also a student and resident of Diller’s and now works as a physician in Tennessee. He is among the many who admire this physician and teacher.

"Great teachers can be found easily," he wrote in a letter nominating Diller for the award. "You only have to look to see where students congregate. Phil Diller’s office was definitely one of those places. His door was always open, and every day it was common to find students and residents with questions on their way ‘to go talk to Dr. Diller.’"

Students from his classes describe him as an excellent role model who is "organized, patient and fun."

Despite the words of praise, Diller’s modesty and, above all, his passionate love for patient care and teaching shine through.

"I know there are so many of my colleagues who are more deserving," Diller said, his eyes tearing up in appreciation. "I’m just trying to do my job well."

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