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© Copyright 2018 American College of Physicians. All Rights Reserved. 190 North Independence Mall West, Philadelphia, PA 19106-1572
Toll Free: (800) 523.1546 · Local: (215) 351.2400
Bernard M. Karnath, MD, FACP
Current Position: Professor of Medicine,
Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Medical
Branch, Galveston, TX
Medical School: University of Texas Medical
Residency: University of Texas Medical
"The practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a
calling, not a business." *-Sir William Osler
Sir William Osler, considered by many to be the father of
internal medicine, is the physician credited with taking medical
students out of laboratories and lecture halls and into hospital
wards for bedside clinical teaching.
Osler's insistence that students see and talk with patients
transformed medical education and inspired educators like ACP
Fellow, Dr. Bernard Karnath, Professor of Medicine at the
University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB). A devotee of Osler's
teachings, Dr. Karnath was inaugurated in 2008 as a William Osler
Scholar in the John P. McGovern Academy of Oslerian Medicine, the
highest honor bestowed to a teaching faculty at UTMB. To date, only
18 faculty have been inducted into the University's prestigious
academy that was founded in 2001.
"Except for my family, the most influential person in my life
has been Sir William Osler," says Dr. Karnath, "We have him to
thank for modern medical education because he developed the model
of medical residencies and clerkships." It's evident that
everything related to medical education is near and dear to the
heart of Dr. Karnath. As both a professor and practicing physician,
he devotes 12-14 hours per day to teaching or supervising medical
students, seeing patients, documenting patient care, designing
curriculum, and planning lectures. Essentially, he eats, sleeps,
and breathes internal medicine.
Gifted teachers, golden apples
Dr. Karnath says he chose internal medicine because of the
instructors he had during his internal medicine clerkship at UTMB.
"The faculty were outstanding role models and excellent teachers,"
he says, "They inspired me to go into academic medicine." In
addition to his mentors, Dr. Karnath says it was the
patient-physician relationship that drew him to primary care.
"Internists have a passion for bedside teaching and spend a
significant amount of time communicating with patients. That's what
I like best."
Dr. Karnath spends a lot of time communicating with patients,
residents, and students. He sees patients in a private clinic 3
afternoons per week, and serves as in-patient ward attending 4
months out of the year where he does rounds with his team every
morning while maintaining his afternoon clinic hours. He also
devotes a large amount of time to his teaching responsibilities. He
co-directs the IM Clerkship at UTMB and directs a pre-clinical 2nd
year course called the Practice of Medicine, a course that teaches
medical students how to conduct histories and perform medical
Dr. Karnath is a popular teacher who has received numerous
awards at UTMB. He is a 9-time recipient of the university's Golden
Apple Award for outstanding service to the career of teaching. In
addition to the William Osler Scholar award in 2008, he was
inducted into the UTMB Academy of Master Teachers in 2009, and in
2010 he delivered the keynote address at the university's White
Coat Ceremony for the class of 2014. His commitment to medical
education and dedication to working with students also earned him
ACP's prestigious 2013 Herbert S. Waxman Award for Outstanding
Medical Student Educator.
Hitting all the right notes
Born in the Philippines to a Japanese mother and US Navy seaman,
Dr. Karnath and his family moved soon after he was born to
Kingsville, Texas, a small town in southern Texas where he grew up.
He says he loved going to school and playing music, particularly
piano. A multi-instrumentalist, he also played trumpet in the high
school band and says his favorite hobby is learning to play new
instruments. Currently, he is learning to play guitar, an activity
he shares with his two children, ages 11 and 14. Like their father,
both children play piano and guitar. Dr. Karnath says they are
"outstanding musicians" and admits, "in fact, both of my children
are now better than me."
Dr. Karnath's wife of 16 years is also a physician, and though
she is currently not practicing, she well understands the hours
that are required. When he is not working, spending time with his
family is what Dr. Karnath enjoys most. Despite his long days, he
believes that internists who plan well can achieve a work/family
balance. Dr. Karnath waits for his children to go to bed at night
before getting on the computer, and at the end of every school year
the Karnaths go on vacation to Disney World, an annual trip that
Dr. Karnath cherishes.
In addition to good planning, Dr. Karnath believes it is vital
for physicians to join organizations like ACP. He has been a member
since 1996, and said it was a faculty member who introduced him to
ACP's continuing medical education programs. "It was a great
decision to join ACP," says Dr. Karnath. "The College is very
strong in board preparation and recertification, and the lectures
and people you meet at the annual conference are some of the
Weathering the storms
Despite his passion for the work he does, his supportive family,
and a network such as ACP, there are still challenges in the life
of Dr. Karnath. "One of the biggest challenges is meeting the
demands of clinical responsibility," he says, "Patients have needs
almost every day, and their phone calls and email messages require
my attention." He acknowledges that electronic health records are
paving the way toward better care, however, he often spends his
evenings on the computer responding to patient questions because
UTMB patients have online access to their lab reports and can send
email messages to their doctors.
And there are larger challenges that plague primary care
physicians-things like natural disasters, caring for the
underserved, and salary disparities within the medical profession.
But Dr. Karnath seems to take it all in stride. In 2008, when
Hurricane Ike closed UTMB for 6 months, all medical students had to
be relocated. "It was extremely challenging," says Dr. Karnath,
"but other medical schools really helped out, just as we did for
displaced students during Hurricane Katrina."
Dr. Karnath does not take lightly issues like access to care.
Over the years, he has donated a significant amount of his time to
St. Vincent's clinic, a free clinic for the uninsured in Galveston
that is run by medical students and faculty volunteers. "St.
Vincent's is a wonderful example of providing better access to care
for the underserved," says Dr. Karnath. For three consecutive years
he received St. Vincent's "Most Dedicated Faculty Award," and in
2012 was listed among the clinic's "Most Outstanding Doctors of the
Despite the challenge posed by medical students choosing more
highly compensated medical careers, Dr. Karnath remains undaunted
in his continuous effort to recruit the best students into primary
care. He is a passionate advocate for internal medicine who cares
deeply about the science and humanity of medicine. He tells all of
his students, "I chose internal medicine because of the diversity
of patients and problems that primary care physicians encounter,
especially in the hospital setting where we manage many of the
post-op patients and patients with co-morbidities." "But, the most
important thing I tell my students," says Dr.Karnath, "is that,
'above all, you must love what you do.'"
There is much to be said for the diversity offered by internal
medicine, for the intellectual stimulation it provides, and the
passion it inspires. It is a profession that has produced
physicians like Dr. Karnath and Sir William Osler before him-the
kind of physicians you want at your bedside, the kind of physicians
for whom the practice of medicine is an art, not a trade; a
calling, not a business.
*Silverman M. Murray TJ, Bryan CS. The Quotable Osler. American
College of Physicians: Philadelphia; 2003.
August 2013 Issue of IMpact
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