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Learnings from my Mentors: The Importance of Communication

In This Recording

  • Ami Bhatt, MD, talks about what she learned from her mentors in honor of 100 years of cardiovascular care at Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Warren Harthorne, MD, one of the founders of the original heart rhythm society, emphasized personalized care and the importance of connecting with patients
  • Tim Guiney, MD, taught the value of relationships and listening to patients’ stories to inform diagnosis and treatment
  • Richard Liberthson, MD, put patients at ease
Listen to this recording

Ami Bhatt, MD, director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program, discusses her mentors, the lessons she learned about communication from them and their approach to patient care. This talk was given in honor of the 100th anniversary of Cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Paul Dudley White, MD, who founded the Cardiology Division in 1916.


Welcome to Massachusetts General Hospital's cardiovascular podcast, celebrating the 100th anniversary of cardiology at Mass General and Paul Dudley White who founded our cardiology division in 1916.

I am Dr. Ami Bhatt, director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease program and outpatient cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Greybeard rounds" Had anyone else said it? I don't think I would have understood the words that the person was trying to say. But coming from my esteemed colleague and mentor Warren Harthorne on the eve of his and many colleagues retirement, the phrase greybeard rounds made complete sense.

Dr. Warren Harthorne one of the founders of the original heart rhythm society and has been an advisor to many. He and the other physicians that I will be discussing today are some of my mentors who emphasized personalized care and the importance of connecting with patients.

On this warm summer evening, he was suggesting to me how he could continue teaching after retirement. Warren has always been colorful and expressive with his language. My nine year old daughter is learning about the use of adjectives in creative writing, she could learn from Dr. Hathorne.

"At age 80 this delightful red-headed, now gray-haired lady is as feisty as she was when I first met her." And so begins the typical Warren Harthorne office visit note. But actually he does not write notes. He communicates. His colleagues, the greybeards he refers to, are not only consummate clinicians but also consummate communicators just like him.

"I spoke with the fireman on the vineyard who will pick her up, bring her to the boat and then her sister will escort her inpatient. I spoke with all of them." And Dr. Tim Guiney did. He actually spoke to every one of those people. Every single time throughout a lifetime of caregiving.

Dr. Guiney graduated in 1966 from the Harvard Medical School and began at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1970. His early research in physiology with Dr. Ed Haber led to setting up the first stress test laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital. His relationships and his ability to communicate then led to his being the medical director of the international patient center. But when you ask Dr. Guiney he say, "I like to think I'm an old fashioned doc, I listen to my patient for a very long time, often to the despair of my secretaries. I let people ramble. Every patient has a story and they will tell you the story after a while but that informs diagnosis and how we proceed with therapy. My patients always helped me decide how to care for them." And so Dr. Guiney describes his relationship and the importance of communicating with his patients. Oftentimes Dr. Guiney says that communication happened as he gave them a ride to the boat or as he housed them in the fourth floor of his house at the top of the hill.

"Boy, you get uglier every year," says Richard Liberthson with a warm smile as he hugs a 50 year old man who by all history should have not made it past 17. And so he puts the rugged lumberjack from Maine at ease and engages with him, enveloping the young man in a cocoon of protection from the countless memories from years of procedures and maternal tears shed during MGH visits.

Dr. Liberthson started at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1973. At that time taking care of kids with congenital heart disease who may or may not make it to adulthood. What he learned is that by communicating with these kids, with their parents and by taking them through the advances in pediatric cardiology that Massachusetts General Hospital and the world saw over the next four decades, he would run one of the oldest and largest adult congenital heart disease centers in the country many years later.

These are my mentors, your mentors. Role models to fellows, colleagues and patients. There is much to be learned from these individuals. These individuals share seemingly romanticized but real stories of investigating the electrical system of frogs, learning firsthand about the Kennedy days in detail exquisite enough to fill the JFK museum. Landing a jet plane full of medical supplies in La Paz and delivering Zulu babies.

Even more impressive are their daily interactions, their ability to relate within minutes. The innate sense of humanity which they exude and employ. And though many may say it is a part of who they are, they're persona, they're psyche or their soul, I say it can be taught. And if anyone can teach it, they can, the greybeards.

The Paul Dudley White cardiologist knows this. One of the salient features of my life in medicine has been the opportunity to share in the lives of the embryonic physicians and exchange with them my own philosophy of life. These trainees have become an extension of my family now living in every corner of the world and I take pride in their successes and bemoan their failures.

Upon his retirement, Dr. James McFarland commented, "I leave as things are in flux and I fervently hope that they will work out well. It is good to see that there is a recognition of this special relationship, that we are given the privilege of having it with our patients, our mentees and our friends."

Well if this generation has taught me one thing, it is that hope is most useful when followed by action. So whether we resurrect greybeards, invite the physician emeritus to host fellows conference or call it greybeard rounds, in honor of the Paul Dudley White centennial, our generation pledges to make an active effort to engage across generations of experience so that instead of disappearing into the woodwork, we weave our experiences into the fabric that represents lifelong careers in cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Listen to other podcasts in this series and learn more about Paul Dudley White's legacy of cardiac care by visiting:

Learn about the Mass General Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program

Visit the Paul Dudley White Society: 100 Years of Cardiology website


In this podcast, Ami Bhatt, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, discusses prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in adults with congenital heart disease.


In October 2016, the Cardiology Division at Mass General celebrated 100 years of heart care. This video highlights the story of its founder, Paul Dudley White.