Larry Hergott, MD, treats all patients with compassion.
by Amy Vaerewyck | University Communications
Larry Hergott, MD, gave University of Colorado President Bruce Benson his first patient’s-eye view of the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH). He delivered an accurate diagnosis about Benson’s heart condition, which had eluded doctors at another hospital where Benson had arrived by ambulance.
The incident, some eight years ago, gave Benson an appreciation for UCH—for which he now serves on the board of directors—as well as admiration for the physician at the UCH Cardiac and Vascular Center who determined that Benson didn’t need a procedure that other doctors were recommending. A friend of Benson’s told him he needed to get to UCH, which proved to be good advice.
“Larry was able to determine what was wrong with me in short order and to take the right corrective action,” said Benson, 75. “Other doctors I visited weren’t sure what was wrong, but Larry hit the nail on the head and got me fixed up in short order.”
Benson now leads CU’s four-campus, $3 billion annual operation, keeping up an energetic, demanding schedule and maintaining a healthy heart. For his part, Hergott, professor in the CU School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology, gained insight into his high-profile patient.
“President Benson is extremely accomplished, but he comes across just like a regular guy,” Hergott said. “When you talk to him as a patient, it’s like you’re talking to a friend.”
Nothing else like it
Hergott and the CU Anschutz cardiology team are gaining national and international prominence for the quality care they provide—which is why President Benson went to them.
With more than 50 faculty members and fellows, the team offers services in a multitude of fields, including heart failure treatment, electro-physiology, interventional cardiology, congenital heart disease and pediatric care. They even treat non-human patients at the Denver Zoo.
“We are very pleased with the colleagues we have and the work that’s done here,” Hergott said. “There’s nothing like this center in the Rocky Mountain region.”
Treating President Benson is one of many memorable experiences in Hergott’s 36-year career in clinical cardiology. Originally from small-town Minnesota, Hergott did his undergraduate work at his home state’s Saint John’s University, where he played both football and baseball. He earned his MD from the University of Minnesota and thought he would become a general practitioner.
After four years of medical school and three years of residency, he had a fellowship in cardiology—and discovered his love for it.
He practiced for many years in Minnesota and for a year in the state of Washington, but he and his wife had wanted to move to Colorado ever since a vacation they took here in the 1970s.
“My first time seeing those mountains,” he said, “I’ll never forget that.”
When a job opportunity in Denver came in 1980, Hergott took it. He joined the CU School of Medicine faculty in 1999.
“What I’ve found [at CU Anschutz] is a rich, loving atmosphere,” he said. “The University of Colorado has given me the opportunity to practice medicine to the highest level.”
To know and to care
Hergott believes that, upon first meeting a doctor, a patient has two questions in mind: “Does he know what he’s doing?” and “Does he care about me?”
His goal is to answer “yes” to both of those questions—and to answer all his patients’ other questions, as well.
Over time, as health care practices have evolved, pressure and demands on physicians have increased, Hergott said. That increased pressure, he believes, has led to a significant reduction in the focus on human compassion in the practice of medicine—and in what he calls “the soul of medicine.”
At CU Anschutz, Hergott feels he is able to give his patients the time they need and deserve.
“I’m eternally grateful to the university for giving me the opportunity to do things the right way,” he said. “It’s so important to do everything you can for people in your care—I mean everything.”
The soul of medicine
In addition to allowing for ample time to serve patients, the CU Anschutz Division of Cardiology gives Hergott the opportunity to develop his writing. As part of his position there, he puts in about two hours of writing each day, producing essays and poems about care and compassion in medicine.
Hergott’s writing has been published in both literary and medical journals, including the Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA). He often writes in an uplifting way about difficult topics—such as the day he lost a patient (PDF) and the death of his 32-year-old son, Zachary, in a plane crash (PDF).
He has traveled around the country to give readings of his work and recently served as a visiting professor for the medical humanities program at the University of Edinburgh. The CU School of Medicine’s Hergott Heart of Medicine Award for medical writing was named in his honor.
“My gift to the world has been taking care of patients,” he said, “but what may be more useful to the world now is more medical humanities.”