Family Medicine Pioneer and Champion Passes Away at 97

April 28, 2022 - Long-time member of the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and Michigan Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP), Roy J. Gerard, MD, passed away on April 17 at the age of 97.

Among Dr. Gerard’s many accomplishments was serving as founding chair of the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine. Launched in 1974, using start-up funding from a four-year W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant, the department was one of only nine departments of family medicine in the United States. Dr. Gerard served as chair until 1992, during which time he grew it into one of this country's premier family medicine-focused departments.

After earning his medical degree in 1953 from the University of Michigan Medical School, Dr. Gerard completed a transitional year internship followed by residency at Central Michigan University College of Medicine.

“As my training ended, a general practice physician in Saginaw was disabled for the summer and asked me to take over his practice for six weeks. He was my patient and had suffered a heart attack. He had a weekly house call run—that was wonderful—the home visit was my cup of tea. I covered his practice and found in his office all I needed—young patients, old people, pregnant women. It was all there, and I was ready,” wrote Dr. Gerard in The Conscience of Medicine: A History of Family Practice in Michigan, a book he co-authored to preserve the history of family medicine in Michigan. The book, housed in the Francis P. Rhodes Library at MAFP’s office in Okemos, MI, was heavily based on materials found in MAFP’s archives.

Thus, Dr. Gerard established his family medicine practice in 1955 in Saginaw. It was here that he and several colleagues established one of the 12 original family medicine residency programs in the United States, using his own private practice as a model for the curriculum. Saginaw Family Practice Residency, known today as Central Michigan University Family Medicine Residency, has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) since 1969.

“Roy taught the importance of looking at the patient as a whole. It was stressed to us that the family should be taken care of as a unit of care.  We were taught that part of our role as family physicians was learning when we should refer to other specialists.  We were taught to learn from our patients and that listening intently would usually provide the information we needed. Roy was a superb role model. When you watched him deal with each of his patients and the special relationship he had with them, as well as their families, it made you truly aware of the meaning of being a family physician,” recalled James Shetlar, MD, in a past award nomination letter he wrote of his mentor.

Dr. Gerard joined the Academy in 1955, when it was the American Academy of General Practice and his title was general practitioner. It wasn’t until 1969 that family medicine was recognized as a distinct specialty in the United States, for which Dr. Gerard was a strong advocate.

Throughout his career, Dr. Gerard was an active volunteer leader at MAFP. Among his roles were serving as consulting editor of MAFP’s research journal, president of MAFP’s then local Capital Chapter, and on the MAFP Board of Directors. He also volunteered his time to national organizations committed to advancing the specialty, such as the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.

For his dedication to his specialty and his patients, and for nurturing future family physicians through his significant contributions to undergraduate and graduate family medicine education, MAFP recognized Dr. Gerard with its Michigan Family Medicine Educator of the Year Award in 1991.

MAFP mourns the loss of this tremendous family physician, family medicine pioneer and champion, mentor, and educator, and we send our condolences to his family. The specialty and the lives of so many learners, family physicians, and patients are better because of him.

Those who knew Dr. Gerard are encouraged to reach out to his family to share stories and memories of him. You may email his wife at [email protected] or call 517.256.8789.