Link: University of Iowa

Information About

Alumni Interview

Portrait: Fernando Tapia

Fernando Tapia, 43BA, 47MD

Professor Emeritus
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
University of Oklahoma

What is your hometown?

Scottsdale, Arizona.  I retired to this place 20 years ago

What interested you to pursue a career in medicine and medical education?

In medicine – Back in Panama, becoming a doctor guaranteed an affluent and respectable life.  I figured I was smart enough to achieve it. In medicine education – After I finished my psychiatric training at Washington University (St. Louis) my intentions to return to Panama City to practice were diverted by offers to stay in St. Louis and teach at Washington University.  My medical education career was then confirmed by an offer of Assistant Professor and the opportunity to develop a program of Child Psychiatry at the University of Missouri (Columbia).

Please highlight your major career achievements, awards, discoveries, etc.?

I am an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, University of Oklahoma;  Distinguished Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association; probably the first to publish the contention that childhood enuresis was not a neurotic or emotional problem;  one of the earliest publishers of a study regarding children who were cruel to animals and its future implications. 

Is there a teacher, mentor or Carver College of Medicine faculty member who has helped shape your education?

No medical school teacher in particular stands out.  However, the overall exceptional high quality of the faculty was inspiring by its daily example. 

How or why did you choose the UI for your education and medical training?

I got a scholarship to UI in 1941 after I had graduated from Balboa High School in the Panama Canal Zone.  After pre-med I was conditionally admitted to the medical school (as a graduate student to hope someone would drop out).  One of the students that filled the class quota did not come due to a serious illness and I got the spot.  A year later, Dean Carl Seashore, head of the Graduate College, gave me a scholarship to medical school. 

What kind of professional opportunities or advantages has your UI medical training provided?

Nothing special that I could pinpoint.  However, being a UI graduate was universally accepted as more than adequate and never questioned as lacking.

Please describe your professional interests?

They have been quite varied as you would expect in a long career.  During my 11 years in Child Psychiatry, I was particularly interested in teaching, both medical students and Fellows.  I thought that the intellectual substance of Child Psychiatry was conflicted by too much psychoanalytic thought.  For instance, I could not tolerate and teach the thought, as promulgated by Dr. Leo Kanner (John Hopkins), that Childhood Autism was psychologically derived from “refrigerator mothers and aloof fathers.” I left Child Psychiatry because I felt that it did not contain enough of true medicine substance.  I loved medicine itself too much to abandon it for being a team captain in Child Guidance. In adult psychiatry I went through a period of interest in Sex Therapy a la Masters and Johnson, which I abandoned to pursue it as an individual therapist and by other methods.  This also included marital therapy.  By a twist of circumstances, I was put into the work of sex change surgery and all that went with it, transsexuals, etc.  Towards the end of my career my interests went towards Geropsychiatry and easily became Dr. Second Opinion for anyone so diagnosed and still harboring doubts and/or hopes.  I have a strong inclination towards relaxation, hypnosis, meditation, etc. as a help in therapy and personality changes.  I wrote a book on Self Psychotherapy (The Magic Rooster) whose sale was minimal. 

What are some of your outside interests?

Not many or any in particular during my career.  Maybe golfing and a little special attention to my growing and dispersing family; three daughters finishing college, getting married, moving away, etc.  After retirement, I have done some writing, all of it for the fun and pleasure of it, even if I have to recruit readers wherever I can find them. 

Do you have an insight or philosophy that guides you in your professional work?

Maybe I had two insights worthwhile mentioning.  First, keep your nose clean.  It just pays not to wander from the straight and narrow.  I was never sued, or even threatened to be sued.  Second, you have to keep learning.  In the end, the psychiatry I practiced was quite removed from the one I left my residency with.  And it was fun to learn, still is, even if in other subjects. 

If you could change one thing about the practice or business of medicine, what would it be?

There is no question, that advertising has changed the practice and business of medicine.  I would not hesitate to use it and even have PR help.  I now see magazines and Sunday Supplements listing “The 10 best doctors in . . . .”  Hey, how did you get in there?  If the mediocre can jump to the front, the competent and good ones will get run over unless they move. 

What is the biggest change you've experienced in medicine since you were a student?

Obviously, it being financed through insurance is the biggest change.  This ballooned the cost of medical care.  And now, the growing number of para-medicals (Nurse practitioners, PA’s, etc.) which will hopefully serve to reduce the cost of overall care. It seems to be so politically correct, to do something for the UNINSURED.

What one piece of advice you would give to today's medical students?

Know thyself.

What do you see as "the future" of the medicine?

It will get scientifically much better, but humanely much worse. . So?


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