Ross B. Vaughn, MD, FACP, discuss how a career in medicine is a marathon, not a sprint

Ross B. Vaughn, MD, FACP
The Vaughn family boating on Lake Tuscaloosa.


Ross B. Vaughn, MD, FACP
Partner, Tuskaloosa Internal Medicine, LLC, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Clinical Professor of Medicine, College of Community Health Sciences, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

University of Alabama School of Medicine at UAB, Birmingham, Alabama

University of Alabama Hospitals, Birmingham, Alabama

What is your current position?

I am a partner in a traditional internal medicine practice that has served west Alabama for over 70 years. I also hold an adjunct faculty appointment as Clinical Professor of Medicine in the College of Community Health Sciences at The University of Alabama and serve as a preceptor for senior medical students during their acting internship in internal medicine. I am very excited to have begun my term as Governor of the Alabama ACP Chapter this spring allowing me to interact with students, residents, and practicing physicians across the state.

Where did you attend medical school and postgraduate training?

I attended The University of Alabama School of Medicine at UAB, now the UAB Heersink School of Medicine. I continued my postgraduate education in Birmingham at The University of Alabama Hospitals in the primary care track, which uniquely prepared me for a career as a primary care internal medicine physician. Following residency, I completed an additional year as chief medical resident and instructor in medicine at UAB.

Why did you choose to become a physician?

It will sound cliché, but I wanted to become a physician from the time of my earliest childhood memories. Maybe it was because my parents were older when I was born and their friends were always talking about their ailments, or maybe it was my interest in Robert Young's television character Marcus Welby, MD, whose wisdom and knowledge seemed unending. By the time I started to school my goal was crystal clear. Despite being the first of my family to attend college, with the unwavering support of my parents and with personal focus, the goal was realized.

Dr. Vaughn leads a group from Alabama for ACP Leadership Day in Washington.

What field of internal medicine did you select and why?

Though shadowing a general internal medicine physician during college allowed me to appreciate his close personal bond with patients, my interest in physiology initially pointed me to the specialties of endocrinology or cardiac electrophysiology. Two things occurred during my second year of residency that changed my heart. Dr. Michael LaCombe, of Annals of Internal Medicine's On Being a Doctor fame, was a visiting professor in our residency for a month, and I had the good fortune of working closely with him. The experience solidified the value of bonding with patients and was further amplified when I spent a month later in the year in my hometown doing a community preceptorship with a general internal medicine physician. Seeing patients whom I had known all of my life and sharing their stories committed me to primary care medicine.

Please describe a typical day in your practice.

What is most appealing in primary care is that no day is typical. After 20 years of providing comprehensive inpatient and outpatient service, I handed my inpatients off to a hospitalist program several years ago. My day usually begins making rounds at one of the two skilled nursing facilities where I serve as medical director. This is where I really do feel most like Marcus Welby, MD. With my little black bag in hand, I go from room to room reviewing charts and offering encouragement and comfort without the distractions of an electronic record. While the rest of the morning and afternoon is usually spent with scheduled follow-up visits and wellness exams, days are punctuated by interesting patients. This week, a 24-year-old woman presented with a persistent fever for 5 days after returning from a vacation in Mexico. She had various COVID-like symptoms including eye pain though the antigen was negative. On the day of presentation, she defervesced and developed a diffuse macular rash on the torso and extremities. Laboratory studies revealed leukopenia and thrombocytopenia suggesting dengue fever. Serologies are pending and thankfully she is improving, but no day is typical.

Canyoneering with the family in Moab, Utah.

The Vaughns on holiday in Tubingen, Germany.

What are some of your special interests professionally?

I have particular interests in value-based care and alternative payment models. As chairman for health and public policy of our state ACP chapter, I helped coordinate a statewide demonstration project of the Patient-Centered Medical Home with ACP, AAP, and AAFP. The major insurer of our state recognized the value of patient-centered care and now rewards physicians for NCQA designation as a medical home. As a participant in the Medicare Shared Savings Program, my practice is a member of an accountable care organization and I serve on its board of directors.

What are your interests and hobbies outside of medicine?

My wife and I travel whenever we can, appreciate the outdoors, and were recently in Europe day hiking in the Alps. With our children, we visit at least one national park each year. We are avid fans of University of Alabama football and gymnastics. Though we live on a lake and weekends at home usually involve boating, I escape to the country whenever possible and particularly enjoy upland bird hunting with my 3-year-old English Cocker Spaniel, Olive.

What advice would you like to share with medical students or what do you wish someone would have told you while you were in medical school?

Pace yourself. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Savor your time in training. You will reflect back on those years as the most intellectually gratifying time of your life.

Which living person do you most admire?

I have always had great admiration for those dedicated to their craft, be they a physician, an artist, or a musician. But in 2023, for his courage, determination, and resiliency, I can have no greater admiration than for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He is a father, a husband, a loyal servant of his people, and a warrior at heart.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

To take myself less seriously. Like the lyrics penned by Glen Campbell, “Let me be a little kinder, let me be a little blinder to the faults of those around me, let me praise a little more. Let me be, when I am weary, just a little bit more cheery, think a little more of others and a little less of me.”

What is your most treasured possession?

Material things will pass away. My family and the time I spend with them are my most treasured possession. The memories of experiences we have shared will endure forever.

What is your motto?

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Back to the October 2023 issue of ACP IMpact

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