"A Mind That Startled Us": A Tribute to G. Gayle Stephens, MD (1928-2014)

[G. Gayle Stephens, MD]
" A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Former STFM President and Family Medicine pioneer G. Gayle Stephens, MD, died at his home in Birmingham, Alabama, on Thursday, February 20, 2014, after a short illness. He was 85 years old.

Widely regarded as one of the pioneering leaders in the specialty, Dr. Stephens was the founding director of one of the nation's first Family Medicine residency programs in Wichita, Kansas, and was instrumental in the formation of a Family Medicine residency program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. A prolific writer and recognized scholar in the specialty, Dr. Stephens' 1982 book The Intellectual Basis of Family Practice has been hailed by many as one of the most influential works on Family Medicine ever written.

Born in Pike County, Missouri, in 1928, Dr. Stephens was a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Medicine in 1950. He also attended Northwestern University in Chicago, where he received an M.D. degree with distinction in 1952. After serving his internship at Wesley Hospital in Wichita, followed by a two-year stint in the Army Medical Corps, Dr. Stephens was in private practice in Wichita from 1955-1967. That year, he founded the Family Practice Residency Program based at Wesley Hospital in Wichita, where he served as director of the program until 1972. This program became one of the first 15 Family Practice residency programs in the US to be approved by the Residency Review Committee in December 1968 under the new "Essentials for Residency Training in Family Practice."   

In 1972, Dr. Stephens became the first professor of Family Practice at the University of Kansas School of Medicine's Wichita Branch. The following year, he was named the founding Dean of the School of Primary Medical Care at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and from 1973-1975, he served as the third president of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM). In 1977, he accepted the position of Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Practice at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, where he served until his retirement in 1988.  Dr. Stephens then held an appointment as Professor Emeritus of Family Medicine at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.  

Throughout his career, Dr. Stephens served on numerous state and national committees dealing with Family Medicine education and received a variety of prestigious awards for his work, including the AAFP Thomas W. Johnson Award for Excellence in Family Practice Education in 1975; STFM's Patient Care Gavel for outstanding contributions in the field of Family Medicine as well as for distinguished service to STFM in 1976; the STFM Certificate of Excellence in 1980; the Max Cheplove Award from the Erie County Chapter of the New York Academy of Family Physicians in 1984; the AAFP John G. Walsh Award for Lifetime Contributions to Family Medicine in 1996, and the STFM F. Marian Bishop Leadership Award. In 2006, Dr. Stephens was elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and several awards have been named in his honor at the University of Alabama: The G. Gayle Stephens Award in Family Medicine at UA-Birmingham, and The G. Gayle Stephens Award for Academic Excellence in Family Medicine at UA-Huntsville.  

In 2010, Dr. Stephens donated his papers to the Center for the History of Family Medicine (CHFM), for which he was a founding member of the Board of Curators from 1993-1995. The G. Gayle Stephens, MD Collection at CHFM consists of approximately seven linear feet of material relating to Dr. Stephens' career and service in Family Medicine and includes corespondence and professional papers, published and unpublished works, speeches, lecture notes, awards and other materials. His collection also includes files related to his work establishing residency programs in Wichita and Huntsville.

For more information about Dr. Stephens and his collection, please contact the Center or visit the Guide to the Collections of the Center for the History of Family Medicine(445 page PDF).


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