Michael Kaufman, MD
Michael Kaufman, MD, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Neurosciences Institute, will retire in December 2013. After dedicating more than 30 years of his career to serving patients and inspiring his colleagues, his departure will leave an indelible mark at the Neurosciences Institute, especially with his work in multiple sclerosis (MS).
Throughout his medical career, Dr. Kaufman earned an extensive list of awards and accolades, including:
Before bidding his peers and patients farewell, Dr. Kaufman agreed to share a retrospective view that offers a glimpse of his medical career journey and a few parting words of wisdom.
1. What made you want to be a doctor?
I always did well in science, and I knew I was going to either be an engineer or doctor. I also wanted to prolong my childhood and going to medical school seemed a good way to do that! I came from a generation of people who went to graduate school to become lawyers, doctors or PhD graduates, and being a doctor had the most appeal to me.
2. Why did you decide to focus on multiple sclerosis?
My training was in neuromuscular disease and in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, we were one of the few neurological subspecialties who used chemotherapy. In the 1980s, people started treating MS with chemotherapy, so I felt comfortable with it and started to acquire a large number of MS patients interested in this treatment, about 400 of them.
3. What brought you to Carolinas HealthCare System?
In 1993, Carolinas HealthCare System was looking for a second neurologist, and I thought the hospital could be one of the few places where I could establish a MS center. I interviewed with the department chairman and hospital leaders who gave me the opportunity to open a MS clinic. Initially, we anticipated it would be a part-time thing, but it grew very rapidly into a four and one-half day responsibility.
Shortly after coming to Carolinas Medical Center, a patient, who had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), came for a second opinion. After confirming the diagnosis, I referred him to Houston for treatment. He came back with the impression that we needed a local ALS center at Carolinas Medical Center. That patient was a driving force behind the second specialty clinic at CMC, which hastened the development of the department of neurology.
4. Your patients recently voted you as the Most Compassionate Doctor. How would you describe your relationship with them?
I consider many of my patients my friends, especially those that I have followed since my private practice days 30 years ago. I try to spend time with my patients; generally, I see them once every six months, but I do see the unstable patients more frequently, and some every month, if they are involved in research projects.
But I have to say, recently the nicest thing a patient said to me when I told her I was retiring was: “I knew you were going to break up with me.”
5. How has treatment for MS progressed in the last decade?
In 1993, the FDA approved the first treatment for MS. Now, we have nine approved treatments, and three more will be approved in 2014, with additional treatments set to come out in 2015. This fast pace has made our research fun. I had an opportunity to participate in the development of many of these drugs. My patients had a big part in making drugs available to others worldwide; approximately one out of ten of our patients participated in the trials.
6. How do you avoid burnout as a physician?
If you are going to attempt to be as good as you can be, then you have to put in long hours. If you don’t, you will not be as productive and successful as those who are fully committed. Be clear about your priorities, and do what is most important to you - I happen to really like my work, so it doesn’t always feel like work.
7. How are you handling all the changes in the healthcare industry?
This goes back to liking what you are doing. I have loved what I’ve done, so it’s all been worth the tradeoff. I worry in the future that the changes in the industry will get in the way of people getting into medicine. But I’ve enjoyed it, and my time at Carolinas HealthCare System has been the best part of my medical career. I haven’t let what seems like senseless distractions destroy the joy I get from being here.
8. What is your motivation?
I get a lot of benefit out of research - It’s always fresh, it doesn’t get boring and I’m always learning new things. People in medicine need to find areas of interest. Before just doing MS, I was a neuromuscular neurologist, and then sleep became an interesting area, so I became focused in sleep medicine for a while.
9. How would you sum up your experience working at Carolinas HealthCare System?
I think it has been one of the more innovative places to work. The people here are great. Our next challenge is the shortage of MS physicians. We need to figure out how to grow and take care of more patients with less.
After retirement, Dr. Kaufman is looking forward to playing tennis, writing books, doing research on MS and spending time with family and friends.
To contact Dr. Kaufman, his forwarding address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Several colleagues have shared their thoughts on Dr. Kaufman:
“It would be hard to imagine practicing with a better partner. He was warm and welcoming when I came to Charlotte and always available for support and assistance. I've learned a great deal from him as a role model and admire his relationships with his patients. It is obvious that his patients adore him and appreciate his dedication. His patients and the Multiple Sclerosis Center staff will miss him enormously. He is irreplaceable.”
- Jill M. Conway, MD, MA, MSCE, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center/director of neurology clerkship at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Neurosciences Institute
“I have incorporated a quote from Dr. Kaufmann into my daily practice: ‘Always change a losing strategy, never change a winning strategy.’ This has helped me on numerous occasions with difficult cases.”
- Ken Shauger, MD, hospitalist at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Neurosciences Institute
“Mike Kaufman is a rare breed of physicians who have been able to make substantial contributions in all the ‘triple threat’ realms of academic medicine, including clinical practice, medical science and also education. His daily commitment to providing the highest level of patient care has been a source of constant inspiration to his colleagues. His integrity, intelligence, work ethic and affable demeanor have earned him the respect of an entire community.”
- Tony Asher, MD, co-medical director at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Neurosciences Institute
“We are very thankful to Dr. Kaufman for his dedication to his patients, commitment to clinical research and advancing the science in multiple sclerosis and his medical leadership over the last 30 years.”
- Paul Franz, executive vice president, Carolinas HealthCare System Medical Group
“I am not sure they grow them like Dr. Kaufman anymore: clinically busy, loved by his patients and nationally regarded for his work in multiple sclerosis clinical trials. I am grateful Carolinas HealthCare System and our patients had the benefit of his talents for so many years.”
- James McDeavitt, MD, former chief academic officer of Carolinas HealthCare System