Welcome back to MedCast, the podcast from MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. In episode 12, Dr. Stephen Rockower speaks with Dr. Allan Jensen, a Ophthalmologist from Baltimore. They discuss Dr. Jensen's background, Opera and medicine, and Dr. Jensen's work in Maryland. Enjoy the show.
Dr. Rockower (00:12):
Welcome to Med Cast, the podcast from MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. Each episode will be doing a deep dive into medicine and taking an insider's view on issues facing Maryland's physicians and patients and healthcare more broadly. I'm your host, Dr. Steven Rockower. Today my guest is Dr. Allan Jensen, a longtime ophthalmologist in Baltimore, and a major player in MedChi. Welcome, Dr. Jensen.
Dr. Jensen (00:40):
It's good to be here. Thank you.
Dr. Rockower (00:43):
Well, I'm so glad to be talking with you because I know you've been around MedChi for many years, and you know you're sort of a mentor to me, and I I'm in awe of everything that you've done. So let's do a few things of background. Tell me where you grew up, where you went to medical school, your training, how you got to Baltimore, etcetera.
Dr. Jensen (01:06):
Oh, thank you again. I'm from Chicago, and decided I'd like to go to medical school some time ago. I went to the University of Rochester for two years. They had a pre-med program, and Johns Hopkins had a early admission program, which I was fortunate enough to get into. And I came to Hopkins in 1963 and have my two degrees from Hopkins, my bachelor's degree in 65 and my medical degree in 68. And then I stayed on at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore for my medical internship when they had such things. And then went back to Hopkins as resident at Wilmer, their famous eye hospital. I had a fellowship at the Mass Eye Infirmary in Corneal Disease, and then came back to Wilmer to be chief resident in 1974. and then those are the days of the military service and the draft, we can talk about that later. But I was unable to go to the United States Air Force, Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio. It was the air Force's only ophthalmology residency training program. And I had a very pleasant two years there, helping to train residents. And then I came back to Baltimore in 1976, and I've been practice ever since.
Dr. Rockower (02:33):
What drew you to ophthalmology?
Dr. Jensen (02:36):
I still have medical students with me occasionally and teaching them, and they, one of the questions they always ask is, how do you choose what specialty to go into? And I told 'em, it was very much the process of elimination. I know about you. And we went to medical school. Most of us wanted to be like, Sir William Moseley wanted to be great diagnosticians, but then we found out that so many of his patients, they made the diagnosis and the patient died. So that wasn't too exciting. And so we went in, do you wanna be a psychiatrist? I thought not. Do you wanna be a pediatrician? Certainly not. Do you wanna be a gynecologist? I don't think so. And so is a process of elimination and ophthalmology was kind of left at the end. But the fact of the matter is, it's we joke about it is the queen of specialties. It's probably, I would recommend anyone think about it, we have do more good for more people and our patients rarely pass away. Indeed, we'd fix them and they stay alive for another 50 years. So it's ophthalmology was the leftover, but it certainly is the right one. And it's, as I say, region, regions, the queen of specialties.
Dr. Rockower (03:38):
How did you get involved in organized medicine?
Dr. Jensen (03:42):
When I first came back from the military to go into practice, I was asked to join a wonderful ophthalmologist who's just recently passed, Dr. Robert Welch, and he's actually written the history of the Wilmer Ryan student. He was one of the people who started the retina service at Wilmer, and he was always interested in history and serving the profession in the public. And I still remember someone asked me, or you join, gonna join Baltimore City Medical Society where you can join MedChi. And I kind talked to him and he kind of looked at me and said, why do we even ask? Of course you're gonna join. That's your obligation and your responsibility. So I really joined at the, on the advice of my senior mentors, and they were right, of course.
Dr. Rockower (04:31):
And so tell me how you moved up within the Baltimore City Medical Society and MedChi.
Dr. Jensen (04:38):
Well, as, as you know, it's very much a matter of availability and willingness and the willingness to work hard. And I just, it's over 50 years ago, I still don't remember all the details. I do remember enjoying it, you know, in the old days, when you joined the Medical Society. Listen, when most doctors were in private practice, and there are a lot of reasons to, to join the society and why we had such high membership. Number one is no question, it was camaraderie. You got to meet people who would not otherwise have met. you've got to have education. Those, those were times when MedChi had wonderful and still have wonderful educational opportunities, but now they've been kind of overtaken by what people learn at their medical schools and hospitals. And also, it was before the days of managed care.
So when you went to meetings at MedChi, you met other people, they got to know you. And frankly, to be honest, it was a source of getting referrals. People got to know you and refer you patients because they were like you, or they're impressed with you. As time went on and you went to those meetings, we heard about the different committees and different things would interest you, including insurance problems, including educational problems, including scope of practice issues. And it was kind of just built from there. And most of all is the willingness to do it, the availability and the willingness to work hard.
Dr. Rockower (06:01):
Absolutely. I got much the same advice when I started. Joined to to meet other docs and, and get your referrals and you know, and know who everybody is. So you know who to refer to. You talked about you know, being on the Medicine Music Committee. Are you a you know, a music person yourself? Do you play an instrument or how did you get involved in that?
Dr. Jensen (06:29):
When, when I was a kid in Chicago, I would like to rock and roll. I still remember the first thing I played on the piano very poorly was Fat Domino. But I really didn't know much about classical music. And when I was in medical school, one of my classmates, actually, my roommate Jerry Smilak, said, why don't we go see an opera? And we actually went to the Charles Cedar and saw an opera movie of La Bohème. And I heard the music and suddenly I fell in love. I said, this is wonderful business. And just became interested. Then I subsequently became, after years and years I became chairman of the board of the Baltimore Opera Company, and we were always interested in the Baltimore Symphony. And I'm now on the board of the Peabody Conservatory of Music School. The one of the committees we began at the MedChi was a Music Medicine Committee.
I forget who was most interested in it, but there are many musical artists who have medical problems, whether it be anxiety, whether it be trouble with their voice, whether it be problems with their limbs. And this committee would have an annual session addressing such issues. And we have doctors attending. We had people from the Peabody attending, and the first one I was asked to organize, as you may know, still active at Union Memorial. And we have pretty much the National Hand Center there. People come from all over, all over the world to have their hand problems treated. And the many musicians obviously have to use their hands, who are paying the violin and the flute in very unusual positions and have arthritic problems and need fixing. And so we had created a lecture or a series or an event lead labeled Helping Hands for Ailing Limbs.
And I had some of my friends ask some of my friends for the hand center come and talk. And we had went on for three, four hours as well attended. And that, that went on. Subsequently the Peabody Conservative for People became increasingly interested and the committee meetings started being held there. And now we don't have that committee anymore, but at Peabody, they've actually helped out, (to) create a Hopkins, a music and medicine section, and they've, they're setting such things to the effect of music on Parkinson's Disease, on Dementia, and they're doing good, good things. It all, it started pretty much at MedChi with the Music and Medicine Committee.
Dr. Rockower (08:54):
Yeah, an orthopedic surgeon. I've often had to deal with musicians who have had hand problems, shoulder problems, elbow problems, neck problems, you know, violinists, pianists, etcetera. So I really do understand what that goes through and the kinds of problems that musicians often have. I've never been a musician myself, so, you know, I couldn't approach it from that standpoint. But it, it was always fascinating sessions to, to be able to do that.
Dr. Jensen (09:25):
I left, obviously look at it more than just the opportunity to have this session, but as you know, I've always been anxious to have outreach and cooperation and collaboration and get people to even know about MedChi. And even then, and now I have the physicians and students who aren't pretty much aware of MedChi's existence or activities. And this gave us an opportunity to not only to have some of the specialists know we existed, but also to know, have musicians who we existed. And it, it was kind of to put MedChi on the map. This is some of the other things we've done, has al have also meant to do. MedChi can be a hidden gem occasionally. And I'm a firm believer in making sure the public knows more about us.
Dr. Rockower (10:07):
Well, that's why we're here to sing the praises of MedChi and how physicians can work with patients and back and forth. You were speaking about medicine and the Baltimore Orchestra. I know that we've had a number of sessions with the orchestra doing the music behind movies, you know, tell us how that got started.
Dr. Jensen (10:37):
The Baltimore Symphony built this new building, now it's, now it's the news, 50 years old. The Meyerhoff Wall immediately across the street. Our address at MedChi is 1211 Cathedral Street. The BSO's headquarters of Meyerhoff is 1212 Cathedral Street. Indeed, if you're ever in the waiting room or the lobby at the at the BSO, you can look out the window and there is MedChi. The it seemed clear, especially with all the effect that music can have on this psyche and so forth, that we should have, have the MedChi and the BSO have more cooperative events. And also we thought it was a good idea to have the BSO be a way to get some medical students and residents to come down and to get to know about MedChi. So we created these events and it hasn't been on that long, and they've kind of been turned off a tad when the epidemic occurred. But the whole concept was to invite medical students and residents to come down to MedChi on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon for a free lunch that always attracts medical students and residents.
Dr. Rockower (11:44):
Dr. Jensen (11:45):
Doubles your attendance. And we would have them look at the MedChi. And now of course, we show, off our, a new museum that's being kind of enlarged. We'd have someone speak from MedChi to tell us about the history of MedChi, and then someone from the symphony, which kind of talk about what production was gonna go on. And then we'd walk across the streets and see the production. As you point out. A couple of them had been these movies with the BSO providing the symphonic music behind the popular movies. And frankly, they've been quite successful. Originally, we'd maybe have 70 people show up. Lately, of course, the attendance was down cuz of the epidemic. But we have a new one planned for just a, a couple of months from now. And I think it, it's a good way to get medical students and residents number one, knowledgeable about MedChi. And number two, knowledgeable out there is more than Baltimore than hospitals where there are also some cultural organizations. It always amazes me when I do talk to medical school and residents, how few of them have even know about the BSO or even know about the
Dr. Rockower (13:04):
That's been actually one of my bugaboos for, for many years is getting residents and young physicians to look outside their hospital confines to the the world outside. Cuz that's really where MedChi and organized medicine comes in to be able to work for and with everybody. You know, the cardiologists need to know what the ophthalmologists are doing, and everybody else needs to know what the orthopedists are doing so we can all help the patients. I agree completely.
Dr. Jensen (13:39):
And again, it's a two-way street. Not only do the doctors get to know each other and get to know about cultural organizations, but the cultural organizations get to know about us. I can't tell you the how many people I have who go to the BSO Baltimore Symphony or Jesus the Opera Company at the Lyric, and they had no idea MedChi existed right across the street and having a group of doctors come get to mingle and gets having to know each other.
Dr. Rockower (14:03):
Let's take a break now for a few minutes. We're speaking with Dr. Allan Jensen, an ophthalmologist in Baltimore. Funding for this broadcast has been made possible by iPrescribe. Toss your prescription pad. Now, there's a safe and easy way to prescribe any drug from your smartphone while you're away from the office. The app also includes access to your patient's medical history, state pdmp, clinical alerts, and more. Visit iprescribe.com to learn more.
Welcome back to MedCast, the podcast for MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. We're continuing our discussion with Dr. Allan Jensen as he discusses his life in Baltimore as an ophthalmologist and as a longtime MedChi member. Tell me about some of your work with the Medical Society and the foundation now, the Center for Healthy Maryland.
Dr. Jensen (15:05):
Well MedChi to, like many of you, many of us, it worked up the ladder. I can't believe it. I was actually became president of MedChi in 1996 or so. And I think I belonged to almost every committee there was. Some of our major activities, of course, had to do with advocacy and you know, we were advocate and there a resource for our patients, the physicians and the public health. And a lot of that had to do with the going to Annapolis, and representing MedChi and the patients trying to improve the health of the, of the state. When I joined Dr. Bob Walsh from practice, we had two offices and number one at 14 West Mount Vernon Place. We called it Wilmer West. Had 10 ophthalmologists in it. And many people I learned from.
And our other office was Dr. Walsh's childhood home at 86 State Circle, which is in Annapolis right across the street from the state house. And we, we would practice here two days a week for a while at the end, we just practiced here one day a week. But it's location was such that when we would go down to Annapolis to testify at either, either with the Eye Society or with MedChi or the City Medical Society, we could caucus at my office right across the street, and then we'd go walk across the street to lobby. It just made it my office. Our office made it very easy to get the other physicians to come to the Annapolis, to lobby. The, I don't have to tell you that all the successes we've had in terms of maintaining excellent healthcare, but by addressing scope of practice issues.
As you know, we've had problems, not, not problems. We've had challenges in terms of having a lack of malpractice insurance, and starting a new malpractice insurance company. there are many, many other issues that we've addressed in Annapolis most very successfully to improve the healthcare in Maryland. Doing that is another wonderful opportunity to teach medical students and residents the importance of having contact with your elected officials, and just where the office was and being able to testify. And my wife, Claire and I, she's very active in these activities with me. We would get to know many of our elected officials and we'd have fundraisers at our home and many of them be became friends and we can go down the list of names, but they were more than when we'd go to testify they were more than just elected officials. They had become friends and still are friends.
Dr. Rockower (17:51):
That's also one of the continuing themes that I try to do to students and residents and young doctors, is to know your legislators outside of session. You know, to be able to talk about a stop sign that needs to be done, or a traffic light or something in your community so that they know you outside of session, so that when you do come in during session, they know who you are and know that you're a straight shooter. That's I always thought that's very important.
Dr. Jensen (18:26):
And there's no question. They recognize that when a lobbyist comes and we have wonderful lobbyists, or when is someone from the society comes, that they're coming professionally doing their job. But they're becoming even more impressed when one of their constituents comes and talks to them. And not only than the, can we ask them to do some help with a stop sign or something cleaning. It works the other way around. I mean, I get phone calls from my elected officials saying, I have a someone with a problem. Where do you suggest they go? Or could you see this problem? We can help them as well as they're helping us.
Dr. Rockower (19:01):
Absolutely. You've been a member of the Maryland Healthcare Commission. Tell me about your work there.
Dr. Jensen (19:09):
Well, that was years and years ago, very, very short period of time. And George Malouf was very influential. We'll talk about George a little later, I hope was very influenced, having, having me signed by Governor Glendening, then and I, this very short period of time. They only allowed to have two physicians on the commission at that time, and they, we were over booked. So one of them, one of us dropped off. The most interesting thing that the Maryland Healthcare Commission would give certificates of need to hospitals to build new buildings and such. And I've always been very active at Hopkins, but just people were very pleasant to me instead of give a talk and so forth. But I had no position with the leaders or anything like that. Well, all of a sudden here, I'm in the Maryland Healthcare Commission and Hopkins is applying for a certificate of need to build the two wonderful buildings they have now. The commission members went down to Hopkins to look things over and have the Hopkins present to us, to what they planned to do. And I was never been more nicely treated in all my life by all the leaders at Hopkins when I was there. With the obligation or the opportunities to sign a certificate so they could build their buildings. And they, it's, it's one of the afternoons I wrote long and still remember.
Dr. Rockower (20:21):
Yeah, your, your resume is so long. I, I'm not sure where else to go.
Dr. Jensen (20:28):
We're talking about interpersonal relationships. One of the interesting things in terms of getting relationships between MedChi and the specialty societies that I've been very pleased to be involved with the Maryland Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons. Remarkably, many years ago, there were two eye societies in Maryland. One, the Maryland Ophthalmology Society in Baltimore, and the other Maryland Academy of Ophthalmology in the DC area. My American Academy of Ophthalmology years ago had decided to become more democratic. They were trying to reach out to the membership and decided that they would have a consult and they would invite a member from each of the state societies to come to a meeting of the academy and have the council meeting to have some input. Well, it turns out that Maryland was the only state that had two eye societies, so they had no idea which society to which then the member and George Malouf was leading one, and I was leading the other.
And I talked about learning about politics and diplomacy from George Malouf. We had, we spent a year in very pleasant activities with a few turnarounds here and there. But we ended up creating the Maryland Society for Efficient Eye Citizens and Surgeons fas a merger of those two groups. And it's, its been very successful organization. And that's when I first got to know George Malouf. and we became friends with the rest of our, well, he just recently passed away. As you know, the one of the, again, joys of being active in MedChi has been getting to know so many interesting and charming and charming folks. There's always some, some politics on some diplomacy and occasional unhappiness, but for the most part, a wonderful experience getting to know, very talented and good people.
Dr. Rockower (22:18):
George Malouf certainly was a very talented and good person to learn from. I, I agree completely. You've been part of the Commission of Aging and you know, as we all get older, that's obviously very important dealing with ourselves as well as other seniors.
Dr. Jensen (22:37):
The Baltimore Commission of Aging has been around for a while. One day, he'd, around 20 years ago, I got a phone call, my office phone, my secretary said Dr. Jensen, the mayor's on the phone call on the phone would you like to talk to him? Of course, I'm mayor, of course, I talk to him. And it was Mayor O'Malley and he said Dr. Jensen, I'd like you to be chair of the Commission on Aging. I said, I think you have the wrong number,
The commission, we have a number of senior centers, and we do very good things for lots of people in the inner city. It also gave an opportunity to have the Medical Society more involved with activities helping the seniors, who's also been active at the Enoch Pratt Libraries. And one of the things we did we created, in every library now has a, a little area of the library called Caregivers's Corner. And this is an area where anyone coming to the library can go to the center and find out information, get information about how best to care for their seniors, what opportunities, what committees, what is available in the city to help them care for their seniors. Another program we developed regarding helping seniors avoid falls, as you probably know, the major cause of death and injury in and for seniors are falls.
Dr. Rockower (24:29):
Dr. Jensen (24:31):
And so we have this program instructing folks and especially their families, to eliminate throw rugs, to make sure you have bars to hold in the bathroom to make sure the stairs aren't too steep to have railings and so forth. All the very practical things. We publicized this to try to minimize falls and injuries amongst seniors. Anyway, it was a very interesting 12 years. And we, again, we got the government to know more about MedChi and the good works we were doing, and we got the seniors to know more about us. a good experience doing good things.
Dr. Rockower (25:10):
Absolutely. Let's change gears a little bit. What would, what might you have been doing if you were not a physician?
Dr. Jensen (25:17):
One of the joys of being a physician beside taking care of patients is teaching. I've enjoyed very much teaching residents and medical students, and probably I would just be teaching something else, some or other.
Dr. Rockower (25:27):
What do you do on the weekends if you're not doing medicine?
Dr. Jensen (25:32):
Well, I, I used to work six days a week, so the weekends were, were very short.
Dr. Rockower (26:00):
So I understand you've been involved with the Baltimore Opera Company? Tell me about that.
Dr. Jensen (26:05):
Well, some, some years ago I was asked to be on the board and worked up the ladder and became chairman of the board. And before we unfortunately went bankrupt, but one of the activities, again, trying to increase up the outreach of the Medical Society and other outside organizations, we created a group called Opera Docs. And this went on for 12 years. And we would have educational lectures and dinners before dress rehearsal of the opera is, many of you know, the Baltimore Opera played in the Lyric Opera House, which is just two blocks from MedChi's headquarters. But we would have most operas have some medical or psychological theme, and that we would invite a MedChi member or local physician or anyone else with certain knowledge and skills to give a talk about one of the operas. And then we would have dinner and then we'd go over and see the dress rehearsal.
And this one, this went on for 10 years for operas here. We actually had at least 40 presentations. And it was a pleasure arranging it with the help of the staff at the opera company. Our first talk was before the opera at La bohème. And La bohème is about Mimi who's dying of tuberculosis. And I approached one of my friends named Al Sommer. He was an ophthalmologist who actually I helped train. And he suddenly went on to become Dean of the School of Public Health at Hopkins. And we remained good friends. And I told him about this plan to have this opera sing. And he said, sounds like a good idea. And he would try to have someone come to give a talk and said, no, Al you don't understand. I want you to give the talk. And here's the title.
And and he has agreed quickly, being a good resident, here's the title, Mimi and TB.
Our last talk was by Carol Ritter, who many of you know was a gynecologist, actually past president of the Medical Society. And the opera was the abduction from the Seraglio, which is a story about some women who were held captive in the Seraglio and their boyfriends tried to rescue them, abduct them. And I asked her if she'd give a talk. And she said, oh yes, every, that was always amazing how quickly people said yes. And I said, we'd like to have catchy titles. Do you think you could invent a catchy title? I said, I'll call you tomorrow. And she called me the next day and said, here's the title, 50 Shades of Gray in the Seraglio.
Are you Still operating?
No, several years ago I decided not to operate anymore. I looked at, I went to the operating room, I saw these youngsters with very agile hands doing brand new techniques. And I thought a certain age are probably, probably wise to stop operating. I was a little surprised to learn that some hospitals, you probably know more about this, some hospitals automatically when get to be a certain age you see, we no longer let anyone this age do any surgery. It doesn't matter how good you are or how famous you are, if you get to be ex age, we don't, you don't operate anymore. And I thought probably is, that's not a, not a bad idea, but like one of the nice things about ophthalmology is especially is that you can have a very busy practice practicing medical ophthalmology. Now, if you're a neurosurgeon or I guess some other specialties, if you don't do surgery, you're kind of out of business. But in ophthalmology you can stop doing surgery and still have a very busy practice.
Dr. Rockower (30:36):
Oh, I agree. There's a lot of non-operative orthopedics as well.
Dr. Jensen (30:51):
Dr. Rockower (31:58):
What advice might you give to young students today?
Dr. Jensen (32:03):
Work harder and pay more attention, but have a little bit of time for, for fun. You know, not only to medical students. When I look, when I look back on the advice I give myself as I'm getting senior, I wish I'd spent more time maintaining the friendships I've had. We talked earlier about having been a fellow in Boston, than being in the military in San Antonio, and being a resident at Union. And, and each place made some very good friends, but a lot of 'em were living far away or moved throughout the country. And every so often I'll read about them and then one of the journals or in one of the newsletters and I say, oh, I wish I'd kept in contact with him. And I think it requires a time and energy to maintain those friendships. And one thing I would've changed is I'd spent more time keeping in touch with old friends.
Dr. Rockower (32:52):
Keeping in touch is, is very, very important. And lastly how has Covid you know, changed the things that you do and affected you?
Dr. Jensen (33:04):
My wife has been very concerned about being a semi careful and, but basically except for wearing masks and not seeing patients who are sick and not going out to too many big parties, it hasn't affected much at all. The one thing it did help me with, as you know, early on when the epidemic along, we kind of got orders from the government that we should only see emergency patients and not see routine patients. And many of my doctor friends just to close down their offices, we kept the office open and I would see two or three emergency in the morning and get home at 10:30 or 11. And after two or three days of that, I realized that I didn't enjoy very much being home at 11 o'clock in the morning. And I realized that I really enjoyed going to work and I was missing going to work. And so the one thing the covid epidemic taught me was that don't retire too early, keep going to work. It's fun, enjoy it, doing good stuff. And it's taught me that I don't wanna slow down too quickly. I don't wanna retire too quickly.
Dr. Rockower (34:04):
Okay. Well that has been fascinating. I wanna thank Dr. Allan Jensen, who has been our guest on MedCast, the podcast from MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. Tune in next time as we continue our conversations with the leaders of medicine in Maryland and to discuss the issues facing physicians and our patients. For all of us here at MedChi, I'm Dr. Steven Rockower. Thank you and goodbye.