Recruited by the Mayo Clinic in 1996, Kevin Reid ’83 is now expanding his career focus to include biomedical ethics
By William A. Bowden
Kevin Reid ’83 was happily ensconced in the Orofacial Pain Center at the University of Kentucky in 1996, working with one of the leading clinicians in the field, when he received a phone call from the Mayo Clinic about a position they had available.
“At that point, I was convinced I was the luckiest man alive, just to be working at UK with Jeff Okeson, who was well respected for his work,” Reid says. “The phone call came on the very day my second son, Liam, arrived. I told them thanks, but my son was born just a few hours ago and I’m very happy where I am.”
Fortunately for Reid, the Mayo Clinic representative was persistent, saying he would call back in a week when the excitement about his new son had died down. It was then that Reid flew to Rochester, Minn., for a visit, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I was like a kid arriving at Disneyland,” Reid says of his first encounter with the world renowned facilities of the Mayo Clinic.
Thirteen years later, Reid has just completed an eight-year tenure as chair of the Department of Dental Specialties at Mayo, where he continues to teach as an assistant professor of dentistry in the College of Medicine while also seeing patients. Moreover, he is now moving his career at Mayo in a new direction as he pursues a master’s degree in biomedical ethics and becomes increasingly involved in ethical issues faced by the medical profession.
Taking a new direction in his life is nothing new for Reid, who at one point was contemplating a career in professional baseball, though not as a player. After beginning his higher education at UK, he decided to change direction and attended umpire’s school, where he graduated first in his class. Then Transy entered the picture.
“The focused attention, the compassionate and beneficent way that professors approached their work at Transylvania, the academic rigor, and the social life—all of that balanced quite well for me,” he says. “It helped reinforce my decision that healthcare was my true aspiration. Looking back, coming to Transy might have been the best decision I’ve ever made.”
After completing his pre-medical sciences degree at Transy, Reid earned his doctor of dental medicine degree from UK in 1988. He chose dentistry because of what he perceived as the flexibility offered by that field.
“I appreciated what I saw to be the professional autonomy of dentists,” he says. “I have a lot of other interests in my life, and I felt dentistry would allow me to attend to those while having a career in a healthcare clinical environment where I wouldn’t have to spend 14 hours a day in hospital call.”
Even then, Reid’s goal was never to become a traditional practicing dentist. By the time he had completed a master’s degree in orofacial pain from the school of dentistry at the University of Minnesota in 1990, his medical focus of chronic orofacial pain had become clear. This was further augmented by the three years he next spent as a national research service award fellow at the National Institutes of Health, where he worked at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in Bethesda, Md.
“I was in the neurobiology and anesthesiology branch, where my work was in chronic pain research,” Reid says. “I was surrounded by some of the world’s greatest thinkers and researchers in the study of pain, and I still use what I learned there almost daily.”
After three years back at UK, the call came from the Mayo Clinic, where he has since focused in on his medical specialty while serving as a teacher, researcher, and clinician.
Chronic facial pain disorders, Reid says, involve a multi-faceted and complex set of causes and conditions, some of which are psycho-physiologic in nature. The field is an ideal fit for Reid because of his graduate work in clinical psychology.
“I had strong interests in psychology and also medicine, and the treatment of temporomandibular joint disorders and chronic orofacial pain conditions brought those interests together very nicely,” he says. “My sense over the years—and I think this is borne out in the literature—is that psychological issues do not cause pain, but chronic pain always causes psychological issues. People who suffer with enigmatic, relentless pain can count on developing some degree of emotional duress, particularly if it’s a puzzling disorder for which there is no robust treatment.”
Although Reid is not always able to bring substantial relief to his patients, the successes are sweet, and the effort always worthwhile.
“Seeing patients is very challenging, but tremendously rewarding,” he says. “I see patients from all over the country, and at times from around the world. When I’m able to make a real difference in the quality of their lives, the rewards are indescribable.”
Recently, in the best tradition of a liberally educated person for whom lifelong learning is a core value, and spurred by his interest in philosophy, Reid decided to rearm himself with more classroom education and a new focus in his professional life centering on the great ethical questions that confront doctors and patients everywhere.
He is completing a master’s degree in biomedical ethics from the University of Wisconsin, through on-line classes and on-site summer seminars, and has become much more involved in Mayo’s initiatives in ethical matters.
Reid teaches bioethics in the clinic’s College of Medicine, is chair of the Transplant Ethics Advisory Board, and also serves on the Ethics Consultation Service and the Ethics Committee. For the transplant board, he is organizing a group of physicians, nurses, and social workers to focus solely on this one ethical issue.
“The wait times to have an organ available can be very long, so U.S. citizens will travel to a foreign country to have a transplant,” Reid says. “It’s called ‘Transplant Tourism.’ We have concerns that a donor may have been coerced, and there are questions about whether Medicare or Medicaid should pay for follow-up treatment back in the states.”
Within the broader concerns of the consultation service, Reid says the difference of opinion that may arise over continuing the life of a patient through life-support equipment is one of the classic situations that confront doctors and families all the time.
“When the family of a patient in a persistent vegetative state wishes to discontinue life support, and the physician or medical team feels there is still hope, that becomes a highly emotive and controversial situation, one that our service provides insight on,” Reid says.
As if treating patients, teaching, and embarking on a new direction in his career were not enough on his plate, Reid has managed to keep up other interests, especially cycling, running, and the athletics adventures of his two sons, Ian, 15, and Liam, 13. He rides about 150 miles a week, and has recently added mountain biking to his regimen. Ian plays on basketball and baseball teams that both travel nationally, and Liam is active in Minnesota athletics.
“I’m constantly riding around with my sons to athletics events, so I carry my computer and books to a variety of cheap hotels all over the country,” he quips. “I used to play the congas and other Latin percussion instruments in a large dance band in this region, but I dropped out of that when my boys got so busy with sports. I loved that, and hope to get back playing with the band again.”
When he has time to think about his career at Mayo Clinic, Reid counts his blessings for the opportunity to work at a world-renowned facility that serves both ordinary patients along with the famous and rich from around the world. It’s an added bonus that his wife, Misty Hathaway, a native of St. Paul, Minn., also works at the clinic, as director of marketing.
Reid was honored by the clinic with its Teacher of the Year Award in 1998 and its Excellence Through Teamwork Award in 2008 as a member of the Ethics Consultation Service.
“I have to pinch myself to this day when I realize my good fortune,” Reid says. “The Mayo Clinic is a wonderfully positive, dedicated, and compassionate environment. Our core value, that the needs of our patients come first, is a dedicated philosophy that every one of us is committed to. I feel it every day.”
After all these years, Reid still sees his Transylvania beginning as the experience that made everything else possible.
“When I came to Transy, I was like the kid in the water who’s learning to swim, whose parent has her arms underneath him, supporting him while he learns the strokes. Little by little, she removes her arms, and before you know it, the kid’s swimming on his own and not even knowing it. That’s how I feel about Transy. I came there and needed Transy’s arms under me while I learned to swim, and by God, they taught me.”