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In honor of ACP's Centennial, My Kind of Medicine: IM
Family is a new series of physician profiles featuring
multi-generational internists. The stories will appear in several
issues throughout 2015 to showcase how a tradition of caring and a
passion for internal medicine are passed from one generation to the
Andrew J. Varney, MD, FACP
Program Director, Department of Internal Medicine, and Professor,
Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Medical
Southern Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine, Springfield,
SIU School of Medicine, Springfield, IL
SIU School of Medicine, Springfield, IL
ACP Resident/Fellow Member:
Jacob Varney, MD
Resident, Internal Medicine, SIU School of Medicine, Springfield,
Dr. Andrew Varney
"I went to medical school to be an ophthalmologist and here I
sit an academic internist," laughs Dr. Andrew Varney, Program
Director for the department of Internal Medicine at Southern
Illinois University (SIU) School of Medicine. Dr. Varney's path to
academic medicine may have followed a less-than straight and narrow
course, but any curves he encountered—including a passion for
theater and taking a year off after college—never derailed his
dream of becoming a doctor.
Growing up in Ottawa, Illinois, Dr. Varney began telling his
parents as early as third grade that he was going to be a doctor.
His parents, who were closer in age to his friends' grandparents
and who had little formal education (his father, born in 1913, was
a factory worker with a 6th grade education), might have easily
dismissed their son's dream; but instead, the two parents were
strong advocates for education and encouraged their son to study
and to excel in everything he pursued.
"I wanted to make a difference by helping people," says Dr.
Varney, "and somehow, even at that age, I knew science was going to
be my platform." Science wasn't Dr. Varney's only interest. By high
school, he was a three-sport athlete, had been singing and
performing in school plays and community theater since grade
school, and his interest in student government got him elected
Class President and President of the student council.
With the help of a partial football scholarship he attended
Augustana College, a small liberal arts school in Rock Island, IL,
but after suffering a few football-related injuries he began
looking for another extracurricular activity. When a voice teacher
suggested he try out for a part in the school's production of Jesus
Christ Superstar, the jock, pre-med student with the golden voice
found himself cast in the role of Judas. Dr. Varney admits it was
all-consuming, "It took me a bit off course and I didn't take the
MCATs that year."
As a result, he spent the year between college and medical
school working in a power plant. Dr. Varney, who is fond of saying,
"never let a crisis pass without taking advantage of it," has no
regrets. "Theater has been a great resource for me in my role today
as an educator. I do not suffer from stage fright, except in front
of my peers," he jokes.
Dr. Varney married his high school sweetheart, Carol Kaschke, a
speech pathologist, and the couple had their first child (Jacob)
during Dr. Varney's fourth year of medical school. "The best way to
handle that challenge," he notes, "is to do as I did and 'marry a
When Dr. Varney was unsuccessful at matching in an ophthalmology
program, he says, "I began reflecting on what I really loved doing,
and I elected to stay in internal medicine." It helped that SIU's
program director at the time, Dr. David Steward, was a committed
and generous mentor who saw in his resident the makings of a great
internist—a passion for learning, an affinity for leadership, and
effective communication skills.
Dr. Steward's instincts were spot on. Just five years after
completing his residency, Dr. Varney was named program director of
SIU's internal medicine department. In addition to developing and
administering the residency program, he teaches medical students,
supervises residents in the clinics and occasionally on the wards,
and delivers lectures on end of life care and the interface between
law and medicine. "We can't have enough physician educator
champions," says Dr. Varney, "physicians who understand that to be
patient-centered requires an investment to see the experience of
illness through the eyes of patients. Like everything we aspire to
professionally, role models are key."
Dr. Varney and his wife Carol have four children, Jake, 27;
Nick, 24, who is in dental school at SIU in Alton Il; Claire, 21, a
junior at U of Illinois who is preparing for the MCATs; and Rose
16, a high school sophomore who plays volleyball and basketball.
Dr. Varney pursues hobbies that nurture him and connect him to his
family. He enjoys singing with his family in the church choir,
gardening (because "stress doesn't grow in a garden"), cooking,
golf, and family cribbage matches. "I'm a little competitive," he
admits, "but I've learned to take my medicine."
Jacob (Jake) Varney, MD
Like his father, Dr. Jake Varney began thinking about a career
in medicine as early as 3rd grade. "I was a curious child and I
wanted to know how the body worked, so my parents gave me a
computer program—Adam, the Inside Story—that used
animation to present the physiology of each organ system and how
The young Dr. Varney also inherited his father's interest in
sports, especially soccer, and his passion for theater. He took
piano lessons from 2nd grade through high school, and along the way
became an accomplished vocalist. By the time he entered college, he
had performed in high school choirs and musicals, and six musical
theater productions at the Muni, a community theater in
Springfield. Children of Eden and Ragtime were two of his favorite
In college he majored in Molecular and Cell Biology, and
performed with the Varsity Men's Glee Club, the University's male
chorus and the jazz a capella group No Strings
Attached. "Jacob is being modest," injects Dr. Andrew Varney,
"To be a member of U of I's varsity men's Glee Club or jazz
ensembles is quite an achievement. They seek pitch-perfect
vocalists and the tryouts are highly competitive."
Before he chose internal medicine, the "modest" Dr. Varney
considered a number of other fields, including biomedical
engineering, pediatrics, and psychiatry, but his interests kept
bringing him back to medicine. "I liked internal medicine's focus
on problem-solving and emphasis on relationships with patients. The
opportunity to establish trust with the patient and get a
first-person history was important to me."
Dr. Varney admits the study of internal medicine can be
daunting. "The biggest challenge is the sheer amount of information
to master, spanning all of the subspecialties of internal Medicine
as well as basic principles of other disciplines, but I enjoy
patient care and trying to help each patient." Dr. Varney currently
spends most of his time in the hospital setting, but is undecided
about his future. "I enjoy hospital medicine-the acuity of illness,
complexity of care, and team-based care-but I also have an interest
in hematology and oncology."
Jake is married to fellow internal medicine resident, Brittany
Varney (maiden name Harrington), who is pursuing training in
radiology. The couple met during their undergraduate years,
attended medical school together and couples matched to SIU. In
their spare time, he and Brittany enjoy cooking, hosting old
college friends who visit, playing board games, and competing in
the infamous Varney family cribbage matches.
The making of an internist
"The most positive thing about being an academic internist,"
says Dr. Andrew Varney, "is participating in the transformative
growth of our residents. They begin residency with a scared,
apprehensive look, a look that says, 'please don't let me hurt
anybody,' but by the time they leave our program they are full of
confidence." Residents become what Dr. Varney refers to as "Masters
of Sick." "They know what sick looks like, sounds like, and they
know what to do about it; and we make sure they have the
educational experience of seeing 'sick' wherever it appears-in the
ICU, on the floors, in the clinic, in nursing homes, and even in
the patient's home when possible."
"As a program director, the hardest thing for me," says Dr.
Varney, "is that change has gone from an event to a constant. There
is a requisite need for faculty development in areas like quality
improvement, patient safety, performance measurement, and
competency-based assessment. As a program director you have to be
dedicated to not only shepherding residents, but also facilitating
in clinical faculty an awareness and a readiness to accept all of
these changes in the practice environment."
A unique challenge for Dr. Varney has been navigating the
dynamics of his son going through his residency program. "It's a
tricky thing," admits Dr. Andrew Varney, "but Jacob and I
anticipated a lot of the possible challenges in advance. When it
comes to providing feedback, so far, Jacob's trajectory has made it
easy. One of Jacob's greatest gifts is his ability to self-critique
and map out areas for continuous self-improvement." For both
doctors, the opportunity for Jacob to stay in Springfield and meet
his professional needs while staying connected to his family in
such an intimate way far outweighed the challenges.
"Watching Jacob go through his experience has allowed me to
re-live residency, and it has provided a lens to refocus on what's
important," says Dr. Varney, "and the additional blessing has been
my wife and I have been able to provide a support system for Jacob
It is obvious Dr. Varney is well-suited for academic medicine.
Over the years, he has received numerous teaching awards from SIU
and is a Courage to Teach awardee from the Accreditation
Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). He is also the 2013
recipient of the ACP Illinois Chapter Laureate Award and is
currently serving as Chair-elect of ACGME's Educational Innovations
Project (EIP). The EIP is a learning collaborative of 21 different
medical teaching programs from around the country that share ideas
on topics related to graduate medical education, issues like
competency-based assessments and ambulatory education.
When asked if he can tell which residents will make great
internists, Dr. Varney replies, "We know from our screening process
that our applicants are capable test takers, but the vital question
is, 'can they relate to people?' As an internist, you need great
communication skills, coupled with intellectual curiosity and
creativity. If a candidate has those qualities and is dedicated to
the outcome of great patient care, that person will be a fabulous
The role of an internist-curious, creative, and caring-is a role
for which Drs. Andrew and Jacob Varney seem perfectly cast.
April 2015 Issue of IMpact
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