The Man-His Life

Article Conference CoverageFrom American Association of Gynecological LaparoscopistsLas Vegas, Nevada, November, 1999


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Dr. Paul Indman: "We're at the AAGL today, and it is a great honor and pleasure to have Dr. Jordan Phillips with me. As everybody knows, Dr. Phillips is probably the father of the AAGL and founding member. But there's a lot more to your life than the AAGL, doing Books for China, bringing medical care to many, many countries. I'm just wondering where it all came from - when you were a child, did you know you were going to go into medicine?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Yes, when I was a child I knew very early on that I was going to go into medicine. I come from Boston; I went to Boston Public Latin School, which is the oldest high school in the United States. It's a classical education, to be able to take the physics and chemistry you had to have special privilege that your future was going to be in medicine. I was able to get those letters from my doctor and from several people that I was so motivated."

Dr. Paul Indman: "How did you visualize yourself practicing medicine? Was it on this international scale?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "No, I thought I'd be a physician, open a practice, and provide health care for patients on an individual basis. And that's what I did for many years."

Dr. Paul Indman: "What made the change in your life to go on and be part of forming the AAGL?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "During my life I've been involved with various organizations. I was President of my class, President of the Alumni Association of the medical school, and President of many organizations that I've been involved so I'm used to organizational activity. When I founded laparoscopy, I knew it also needed an organizational structure to make it possible to be disseminated properly."

Dr. Paul Indman: "When did you start bringing this out of the United States? I know you've helped organize trips to Russia, China, and all over the world. How many trips to China have you made?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Probably sixty-five trips to China in twenty years."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Sixty-five trips to China."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "We go to China three to four, or five times a year."

Dr. Paul Indman: "What brought on this international extension?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "I discovered laparoscopy in 1966, and I started doing laparoscopy immediately. My hospital and my medical school refused to buy the instruments so I had to go out and buy my own instruments to be able to do the procedures. I was the first one to actually start lecturing and demonstrating the technique. I then had some more sets made that I bought and used, and I always had a sterile set in the trunk of the car. So I became an itinerant laparoscopist in California, traveling all over the state doing laparoscopic procedures. A hospital would line up three to five cases in the morning, I would come, visit them, and do the cases for them."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Were you involved in teaching at that point or just doing…?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Yes, I would actually do the operation - it would depend upon the hospital. Some I'd do all the cases, some I'd actually have someone that had taken the courses that I would give to them, or I'd assist them and then watch them operate and help to instruct them."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Then how did this branch out to becoming so world wide? How many countries are represented at this meeting?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "At this meeting there are fifty-two international countries all over the world, all the continents are represented and many, many countries."

Dr. Paul Indman: "So this is a truly an international meeting."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "We call it a global endoscopic society and it's truly global. I started the association in 1971; I incorporated the association as a non-profit educational association. I did a Medline search of the literature so I received every article written in every language in the world on laparoscopy. From that list, I read all the articles, and then I selected thirty-three different authors. I sent them letters telling them that I formed an association and I would like to have them join with me. Of the thirty-three, I had thirty-one positive replies so I knew that I had something that was a benefit. I then wrote back to the same individuals telling them that we should get together and exchange information. I used the papers that each one of them had already written on a program, and I knew that this would be interesting for anyone to attend. We put on our first program here in Las Vegas, in 1972. The following year, in 1973, I put on the first international program ever done in the world in laparoscopy in New Orleans. We had representatives at that location, the leaders of the world, Dr. Raoul Palmer came from France, Dr. Hans Frangenheim from Germany, Dr. Patrick Steptoe from England, and many other international personalities came to that meeting. Then we continued to have meetings, seminars, and workshops - all of the various methods of teaching laparoscopy we did. We had practical clinics - we had just about everything possible in disseminating the information."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Now were you maintaining a full-time practice in medicine while all of this was going on?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "I was practicing full-time when we started this. I ran my practice, and then after three years the association grew to such a degree I then had to make up my mind whether to practice medicine on a individual patient basis or to run the association. So in January of 1975, I retired from clinical practice, and I've run the association and been chairman since that time."

Dr. Paul Indman: "This is obviously your life, what else do you do besides the AAGL?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "A lot, we live a fairly I think interesting life. My life is made up of what I call the three M's - it's medicine in the morning, museum in the afternoon, and music at night. So we have a great deal of interest in museums, collections, and fine art. We are members of the Los Angeles County Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Natural History - there are many museums in Los Angeles and we belong to just about all of them as sponsors and patrons. In turn, we have special privileges of attending the various exhibits on a daily basis so we can be there early."

Dr. Paul Indman: "I have to tell you something very funny because there is a museum in San Jose, and I was just there. They had this mummy which is one of the oldest mummies on record, and here they had a little endoscope they were putting into the mummy with the Stryker camera, all set up so they could actually get inside this. So I wondered if you had anything to do with that?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "That I did not. So we have a very fairly balanced life. I was on the Los Angeles County Board Museum, Los Angeles County Board of Performing Arts and Music Association, where we represented the supervisors of Los Angeles County. We actually fund various music and performing arts organizations throughout Los Angeles County. We had sixty different organizations that we actually supported, and I have visited all of them."

Dr. Paul Indman: "That's amazing because you're also involved in the medical books for China."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Yes, we made many, many international trips and the reason originally for the international trips was to visit Europe and the other centers of the world where there was advanced technology in endoscopy. I made what I call "laparoscopic" trips to Europe where I'd actually go over from France and go from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand, de Lyon, Marseilles visiting all of the leading physicians in that area and actually go into their operating room and see what they're doing. And I'd go to Germany and go from Kiel to Konstanz visiting Kurt Semm in Kiel and Hans Ludermann in Hamburg, and Hans Frangenheim down in the Konstanz. Then I'd go over to Switzerland and visit the key people there. I'd also go on to Italy visiting advanced people in all of these countries and find out what their technology was. Then if there really was an advance, I'd invite them to our meetings and bring them to the United States to demonstrate their techniques."

Dr. Paul Indman: "One of the things that's so special about the AAGL to me is that people are invited to be included. There are a lot of societies that tend to be good old boy societies and it's not the same here. I think everybody is welcome, and I think a large part of that is your doing. Is that a difficult balance to achieve during your…?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "It's the way we actually started, it's an open association interested in getting all the latest and newest technology. We open our doors to anyone, and everyone is welcome to come to our meetings so there's no closure whatsoever. We're known as a friendly society, a friendly association, and we really are. No put on about this, that's the way we are, and so we're able to attract a very large number of high technical capable people. We attract a large number of interested physicians who are interested in expanding their capability and their knowledge."

Dr. Paul Indman: "I really would like to thank you for sharing a few minutes."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "But let me tell you about China before we leave."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Go ahead, I'm sorry."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "That's all right. We had a meeting in Korea, in 1979, and while being in Korea, I was the key note speaker for an international congress. My wife and I then visited China for the first time. On the very first day in China, I asked our guide as a tourist, if we had a possibility of visiting a hospital. The doctor I met spoke English, and he wanted to know what I was doing. I told him about being in Korea, and he asked if I would give a talk to his hospital, which I did the next day. I had the slides and showed them the slides that I showed in Korea. We then traveled to the next city and in getting off the plane, I was met by a delegation of about twenty-five or thirty doctors, and they had arranged for me to give a talk. They said, "We'd like you to give the same talk you gave to the last city - in our city." And what they had arranged in thirty-six hours was to have over one-thousand physicians in their municipal auditorium to hear the latest technology in laparoscopy, and this happened in every city we visited. We were then invited to come back, and I started doing surgery. I did the first surgery ever done in China in 1979. In visiting many hospitals in China, I asked to visit the medical schools because of our interest in education and also asked to visit the libraries. All the libraries were destroyed, they were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. So in 1981, we formed Medical Books for China International, and when we came back home I sent one letter to every medical librarian in the United States telling them - please send me your surplus books to send to China. Since that time we have sent over fifty-five shipments, each shipment is twenty tons of books. We've been able to actually send over three million books that have been distributed to over one-thousand medical libraries in China."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Is there still a need for books?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Yes, there still is a need for books. In every book we have a slip, and it says, "Medical Books for China International, Jordan M. Phillips, M.D.". This is in every book, and that means that I have my name on over three-million books distributed to over one-thousand libraries in China - everybody in China knows me."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Yes, I think we'll have to do our next interview in China then."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "That would be wonderful, love to have it."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Maybe on we can have an address where people can send books."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "That would be fine."

Dr. Paul Indman: "That would be very helpful."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Yes, there's a great need for books, and we welcome all the books that we can have. The address is: 13021 East Florence Avenue in Santa Fe Springs, California, 90670. The telephone number is area (562) 946-8774. We welcome all of your books, but they can't be more than ten years old."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Listening to all of these accomplishments, it's totally overwhelming. Just to conclude, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a human being - whether it's laparoscopy or it's getting the different countries together - what is your greatest accomplishment?"

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "I think actually AAGL - the American Association of Gynecological Laparoscopists and having over five-thousand members, and the impact on millions of patients that have been affected by our improvement and the technology in making these procedures not only faster but safer and better. And making better doctors, who in turn, can provide better health care for their patients."

Dr. Paul Indman: "Thank you very much. It is a privilege to be able to talk to you."

Dr. Jordan Phillips: "Thank you very much doctor."


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