Propelled by devotion to mentoring, experience as a research revolutionary and an abiding compassionate, Allen J. Taylor, MD, FACC, FAHA, MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital’s chief of Cardiology, moves through his days edifying Georgetown University.
On any given day, Allen J. Taylor, MD, FACC, FAHA can be found wearing his trademark bowtie and white coat, moving purposefully through MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital from patient consultations to rounds to meetings in his windowed office.
On a spring morning, three weeks away from the end of the academic year, the hospital’s chief of Cardiology is focused on a first-year student from Georgetown’s School of Medicine.
Peter Nguyen, 23, is seeking Taylor’s guidance to design his independent research requirement so that he can devote much of the summer to a summary assessment of meta-analysis on numerous small studies on the safety of cardiac tests before liver transplant.
Taylor’s office clock is a rendition of a 42 cent stamp: a small figure running gracefully under the weight of a huge red heart, the valentine kind, nothing anatomically correct. On Taylor’s desk is a plaque that reads “Born to golf, forced to work.”
On the wall is a framed magazine advertisement for Philip Morris tobacco that is at least seventy years old. It proclaims: “What Distinguished Doctors Found on Comparing Cigarettes.”
Quips Taylor; “I wonder what the undistinguished doctors found?”
Rites of Passage
A renowned cardiologist and clinical researcher, specializing in cardiovascular imaging and prevention, Taylor is warm, funny and generous with his time. Clearly, he believes deeply in mentoring.
“I’m mentoring him [Nguyen] because he’s interested. You honor the interest with time whether it’s students, colleagues or junior faculty. It’s a chain of responsibility. We have all gotten where we are because of it,” Taylor says. “It’s a rite of passage, if you will. It’s the mentorship process. It’s the circle of life.”
During a 20-year career in the United States Army at Walter Reed, Taylor rose to the rank of Colonel. He served as the director of Cardiovascular Research, director of the Cardiovascular Disease Training Program, and chief of the Cardiology service. He was decorated with the prestigious Legion of Merit for his distinguished body of work.
Taylor retired from military service in 2008 and came to Georgetown. In addition to his professorship at Georgetown, he also is a professor of medicine at the Uniformed University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda.
A Research Revolution
Taylor has accomplished major research breakthroughs during his career, including defining the role of lipid lowering therapy on carotid atherosclerosis, with a particular focus on HDL cholesterol and the use of niacin.
His pioneering work in the field of cardiac CT – or cat scans -- includes conducting long term prospective outcomes trials, randomized clinical trials on the utility of the technique, and methods to enhance the safety and appropriateness of cardiovascular imaging.
Taylor also has helped foment and witnessed first-hand a revolution in diagnostic imaging techniques that spare the patient physical invasion, pain, risk, scarring and trauma.
“It’s been 15 years of progress and, ultimately, literally reshaped the guidelines for treatment, safety and professional society endorsement,” Taylor says. “The revolution has been the development of (imaging) technology through its application to its validation.”
Non-invasive techniques such as cat scans and sonograms to detect heart and arterial disease have replaced invasive techniques such as catheters and exploratory surgery. “These are really wonderful tests. They are simple tests but they are incredibly powerful to understand peoples’ risks for heart diseases.” Taylor says.
“It’s very much about preventative medicine. The right treatment for the right patient at the right time is personalized medicine,” he says. “All imaging is inexpensive -- clearly [the tests] cost less than a dinner out in DC.”
Taylor has published extensively in the areas of imaging, lipids, prevention, cardiovascular outcomes and quality within blue-ribbon medical journals such as Circulation, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the New England Journal of Medicine. Ongoing research funding comes from various private and federal sources, including the NIH.
Founding editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cardiovascular CT, Taylor serves in various capacities in an array of medical boards and societies. His national work on writing groups and task forces includes multi-society guidelines on Cardiac CT training, terminology, and performance, quality standards for imaging performance and radiation protection, appropriate use criteria for diagnostic testing, and national standards on cardiovascular disease management and prevention.
Still, it is perhaps at the bedside where Taylor’s compassion is most apparent.
After an exhaustive review with a nurse practitioner and intern of the medical history of a 63-year-old prominent Washingtonian’s symptoms, the trio enters his hospital room. The man is peppered with a rash of geometric red welts. Perspiration slicks his forehead and discomfort seems to have overtaken him.
The man has endured one episode of heart failure, has a pace maker and takes a variety of medications, which Taylor and his team parse carefully. The rash, an unhealed wound, dizziness and life stresses have combined to bring him into the hospital.
Heart disease affects 1 out of every 3 Americans and is the nation’s leading cause of adult death. Once thought to be most common among men, more women die of heart and vascular disease than from the next five causes of death combined.
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can damage the heart, brain and kidneys as well as the body-wide highways of blood vessels that transport nutrient rich blood to nourish organs. “There is no question that the higher your blood pressure, the bigger the risk of heart attack and stroke,” Taylor says.
Taylor’s approach to the patient is humble, gentle and reassuring, a cardiologist with a heart. The man quickly relaxes under Taylor’s touch.
Later, Taylor says he believes the patient will be alright after a thorough review and fine tuning of his medication. He won’t join the ranks of those patients about whom Taylor worries, the ones who fall through the cracks. This man, along with his family, is deeply vested in his care, a key component of personalized medicine.
-- VICTORIA CHURCHVILLE, GUMC SCIENCE WRITER