Saturday, July 20, 2013

Bernie Lown is My Hero

Bernie Lown is my hero and a exemplary role model for physician healers, scientists, and social activists.

As co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Bernie Lown accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for this organization in 1985. Before that, we was one of the founders of Physicians for Social Responsibility. An accomplished academic cardiologist, he actually has an arrhythmia named after him, the Lown-Ganong-Levine Syndrome. (Please don't ask me to describe it). Bernie is a medical inventor as well. He developed the first direct current defibrillator and still holds an academic position as Professor of Cardiology Emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health.

For decades, Bernie has been an outspoken critic of the growing medical industrial complex and the business of medicine. He writes eloquently about how these developments contribute to infatuation with and overuse of technology, overtreatment, waste of health care resources, escalating health care expenditures and, most importantly, unnecessary harms to patients.

Now in his 90s, Bernie is still voicing his concerns, as well as encouraging medical practitioners to return to the core values and behaviors that characterized medicine before it became a business. These principles include:
  • listen to your patients and to their "stories";
  • put patients and their needs, values and preferences at the center of your attention;
  • build and nurture healing relationships with patients, using empathy and compassion;  
  • evaluate new and emerging technologies carefully and choose wisely;
  • engage patients and caregivers in informed and shared decision-making; and
  • focus on enabling and empowering patients to help them stay healthy and engage in self-care and self-management.
These principles were the bedrock of good medical care when Bernie, and my dad, completed medical school in the 1940's. I dare say they were core elements of medical training in the days of Flexner and Francis Peabody, when my grandfather trained in the early 20th century. As Francis Peabody remarked in 1927, "One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is the caring for the patient."

Recently, a wonderful interview with Bernie was published on a blog created by Melanie Lown, a communication specialist and Bernie's granddaughter. See: The Lown Conversation.

Melanie is the daughter of Beth Lown, Bernie's daughter, a friend and colleague and a wonderful physician and educator. (See the photo on The Lown Conversation blog of Bernie and 6 year old daughter Beth, taken when Bernie arrived in Boston after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.)

See also the following sources for more vintage Bernie:


  1. Beth Lown is NOT Bernard's daughter; she is his daughter-in-law. Beth is divorced from Bernard's son Fred

  2. and the photo you refer to is NOT of Beth but rather of his grandaughter Melanie,
    his co-blogger in The Lown Conversation. Check your "facts."