The Art of Medicine

“I have thought many times that the physical bodies of all my patients will sometimes die regardless of my best efforts as a physician. I hope I can in some way help others to know that Christ is the only way to everlasting life.” – Dr. Gene Washburn ’52, as quoted in Daring, Dreaming, Doing: The Story of Gardner-Webb University by Lansford Jolley.

A lot has changed since Dr. Gene Washburn, the longtime Boiling Springs physician and Gardner-Webb trustee known affectionately as “Dr. Gene,” began practicing medicine half a century ago. “Most of the changes are for the good,” he said, citing advances in pharmaceuticals and medical technology. “Some are not so good.”

Besides soaring costs—he remembers charging $3 for an office visit—Washburn says healthcare providers are beginning to overlook the art of medicine.

“The science of medicine is about treating conditions. You find the problem, and you send something for the problem.” But the art of medicine, Washburn says, is about developing real relationships with patients, knowing their names, knowing their families, and treating the person instead of the problem.

“We used to treat people person-to-person,” said Washburn. “Doctors used to be their patients’ friends. I think that’s the way it should be.”

Washburn earned his associate’s degree from Gardner-Webb in 1952, his bachelor’s from Wake Forest, and his M.D. from Wake’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine. He then proudly served as a Captain and M.D. in the United States Army, where he was stationed mostly in Germany.

While in Germany, Washburn received just one phone call. It was from Dr. W. Wyan Washburn, Dr. Gene’s older brother by 20 years, who was also a longtime physician in Boiling Springs.

“He called to offer me a job in his practice, and I was grateful. In fact, that’s why I’m called ‘Dr. Gene,’ because Wyan was always ‘Dr. Washburn.’ I certainly enjoyed working with him. He taught me a lot, not just about medicine but about people.”

Over the next several decades, Dr. Gene earned a reputation for quiet, humble service in the Boiling Springs and Gardner-Webb community. He served as team physician for numerous Runnin’ Bulldog sports, and was named Bulldog Club Member of the Year in 1974. He has also served multiple terms on the Board of Trustees, including several as Chair.

His family connection to Gardner-Webb dates back to the very birth of the institution. His grandfather, W.W. Washburn, was the first person to sign the Boiling Springs High School (predecessor of Gardner-Webb) certificate of incorporation, and served on the Board of Trustees from 1904-1933. He’s also had other family members serve the University as faculty, staff, board members, volunteers and students.

As a small town physician, he also enjoyed numerous opportunities through the years to “get to know patients in a deeper sense. I think people will tell their doctors more than they’ll tell their preachers,” he jokes.

He’s made house calls to the same house to treat individuals, and then their kids, and then their kids’ kids. He’s even seen a kid of his own, Dr. Rusty Washburn, follow in his footsteps as a family physician in Rutherford County. “Rusty works very hard to make a real difference in his patients’ lives,” Dr. Gene said, smiling. “He’s even made a few house calls of his own.”

His daughter Sherry also works in the medical profession, serving as a nurse.

Ultimately, Washburn says he was thrilled to hear of Gardner-Webb’s plans to pursue a College of Health Sciences complete with Physician Assistant (PA) and Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) programs, remarking on the outstanding growth in medical education he’s seen since his days at Gardner-Webb Junior College.

“I just hope the students will come to understand the importance of building relationships, of treating people person-toperson, and of practicing the art of medicine,” said Washburn. “I believe they will.”