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Victor A. Simms, MD, MPH, FACP
Associate Chief, Dept. of IM
Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, Houston, TX
Baylor College of Medicine
Baylor College of Medicine and Affiliated Hospitals, Houston,
With so much media coverage these days about the neurological
damage resulting from multiple concussions suffered by players in
the National Football League, it's hard to conceive that football
might also be a sport that can save lives.
"There's no denying that playing football is dangerous," admits
Dr. Victor Simms, a former high school linebacker whose own
football-incurred knee injury dashed his dreams of getting a
Division 1 college football scholarship. "But for kids in poor
neighborhoods, the streets are even more dangerous. For many,
football is a refuge."
Dr. Simms knows of what he speaks. He grew up in a poor
community in Ft. Worth, Texas, and began playing Pee Wee football
at age 4. In poverty-stricken neighborhoods, where teen pregnancy
and kids growing up without fathers is epidemic, drugs and violence
are claiming young lives at an alarming rate. "Football," says Dr.
Simms, "gets kids off the street and provides them with coaches,
role models who teach them about teamwork, responsibility, the
value of hard work and the importance of taking direction."
Dr. Simms was fortunate. He had more than football to save him
from the perils of the streets. "I am one of 12 children and my
family did not have much money," he says, "but I had loving parents
who raised us in the church and who stressed the importance of
education." "As a young child," says Dr. Simms, "I loved playing
ball, but I also loved reading and drawing, and I would spend hours
poring over my parents' set of Encyclopedia Britannica."
Beyond the goalposts
Dr. Simms' knee injury may have been a "blessing in disguise."
While recovering from surgery and still on crutches, he was invited
by a friend's father to accompany him and his son to visit the
campus of Texas A & M University. The visit changed his life.
After meeting with the Dean of Minority Affairs and a Dean from the
Medical College, Dr. Simms had a new game plan.
"It was such a moment of clarity for me," says Dr. Simms, "I
realized that at 5'9", I was probably too short to play ball at the
level I had dreamed." And to his surprise, it no longer mattered.
The Dean of Minority Affairs, after reviewing his academic record,
immediately offered him an academic scholarship.
Dr. Simms vowed that he would continue to get good grades and
make his way to medical school. And that's exactly what he did. In
1992, he graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biology from
Texas A & M, and in 1996, he received his medical degree from
Baylor College of Medicine in Houston where he also completed his
residency in internal medicine.
Along the way, he received numerous awards, including A &
M's Presidential Achievement Award, the John Becham Award for
Outstanding Senior in the College of Science, the H.R. Lewis
Scholarship Award, and the Black Graduate Student's Association
Award for Top Academic Senior. "I'm a competitive person," says Dr.
Simms, "I think that helped me do well in school."
Honoring visions, saving villages
It also helped that he had a clear vision. "I knew I wanted to
be a doctor since I was nine years old," says Dr. Simms. It was at
that age that he was visiting his sick grandmother in the hospital
and found himself fascinated by everything the attending doctor was
doing and saying. The doctor, Dr. Adams, noticed the young
visitor's interest and invited him to come back to the hospital and
spend a day doing rounds with him. Dr. Simms says the day with Dr.
Adams is one he will never forget. It convinced him that medicine
was his "calling."
Before choosing internal medicine as his specialty, Dr. Simms
says he initially considered pediatrics, but after his first
patient died, a 7-year-old boy with acute myelogenous leukemia, Dr.
Simms had to admit, "I realized it was going to be too hard for me
to take care of really sick kids." He also considered becoming a
surgeon because he was good with his hands, but in the end he says
it was internal medicine that got his attention.
"There are lots of very smart people in internal medicine," says
Dr. Simms, and that appealed to him. But he candidly admits,
"internal medicine was not easy for me. Academically, it was very
challenging." But Dr. Simms enjoys a challenge, and he wanted the
exposure that internal medicine would give him to a wide variety of
patients and diseases and the larger view of medicine.
After completing his residency, Dr. Simms accepted a Primary
Care Fellowship funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH)
and obtained a master's degree in Public Health from the University
of Texas School of Public Health. "The master's degree gave me a
better understanding of research and how health systems and policy
effect the larger population," says Dr. Simms. He compares the need
to study public health to the story of the village suffering from
cholera-"you can treat one patient at a time, or you can go
upstream and treat the water and save the whole village."
A noble profession
Internal medicine has given Dr. Simms the variety he was looking
for. As a clinician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, a large
multi-specialty clinic in Houston, he spends about 80% of his time
seeing patients-from the17-year-old who needs preventive care to
the 100-year-old patient for whom he is managing 15 different
medications and working with family members on end-of-life issues.
He is also a member of the Kelsey-Seybold Board of Directors and a
managing physician at Kelsey's clinic in Pasadena, Texas.
"I never imagined myself as a businessman or politician," jokes
Dr. Simms, but at Kelsey-Seybold he finds he enjoys being part of
the administrative and policy-making teams that affect the future
of the institution. In the future, Dr. Simms says he will likely
cut back on some of his clinical time to assume more leadership
responsibilities, "But," he says, "I will always see patients. I
need to see patients-otherwise, I don't feel connected to
Despite his busy schedule, Dr. Simms makes time for church and
exercise. He especially likes to lift weights, and when he finds a
few extra hours, he enjoys playing golf or going to movies,
theaters and restaurants in Houston.
Dr. Simms is the first person in his family to attend
college-that alone, is a significant achievement-but, he is also a
doctor with a Master's degree, a principal investigator for a 2010
NIH research project, and the recipient of numerous academic and
professional awards, including the ACP Texas Chapter's "Young
Physician Leader of the Year 2012" award. Yet despite his
achievements, Dr. Simms remains humble. "My father did not even
graduate high school," he says, "but he was one of the most
intelligent people I have ever known. He was a loving man, a man of
God. I hope to be half the man he was."
Dr. Simms' says his faith and family keep him grounded, "If I
mention an award to my mother, she will say, 'that's nice, Victor,
are you hungry? Can I make you something to eat?'" Her
not-so-subtle reminder that in her house humility and the
opportunity to serve others are what matter most.
Not that Dr. Simms needs any reminding. "It is a great privilege
to serve people," he says, and despite the problems that are part
of the healthcare system-the paperwork, the reimbursement issues,
and the law suits-"Medicine," he insists, "is still a very noble
profession." "We see people in pain, people who are at the end of
life, and they trust us to help them through the process. That's a
"What other profession offers you that?" he asks with
enthusiasm. And then quietly, "Medicine," says Dr. Simms, "is a
great adventure, a great life, a great calling."
December/January Issue of IMpact
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