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Alumni Profile: John Dormois, M.D.

Posted by on Friday, September 22, 2017 in Alumni Profile, Summer 2017, Vanderbilt Community .

Branching Out


Photo by Alex McKnight

John Dormois, M.D., knows that life is about the journey. Seven years ago, at age 65, when many career-long physicians are ready to trade their stethoscopes for golf clubs, Dormois chose a different path; he went back to school.

“I had always threatened to go back to school; I had been a lifelong learner,” he said. “I loved the practice of medicine and cardiology; it was a wonderful ride, as they say. I had put my time in. I was ready to have some kind of a change.”

Dormois grew up in Kansas and earned his medical degree from the University of Kansas in 1969. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, served two years with the U.S. Navy and completed a fellowship in clinical pharmacology and cardiology at Vanderbilt in 1975.

From 1975 to 2010 he was in the private practice of cardiology in Tampa, Florida. Throughout his training and career, he observed that physicians were at risk of losing a sense of empathy for their patients, particularly at the end of their patients’ lives, and it bothered him. After closing his practice in Tampa in 2010, he decided to do something about it.

He entered the Duke Divinity School. The late Gottlieb C. (Bud) Friesinger II, M.D., former director of the Division of Cardiology and his revered mentor at Vanderbilt, encouraged him to make the big leap.

“So off I go to Duke with the full intention that I would return to medicine at some point, and I hoped that might involve teaching to address some of these concerns that I’ve carried for almost 50 years.”

Dormois graduated in May 2013 with a Master of Divinity degree and then did a fellowship in palliative medicine at the University of South Florida. He is board-certified in hospice and palliative medicine and works part-time for LifePath Hospice in Tampa.

“I’m not a chaplain. I don’t cross that boundary,” he said. “I incorporate my understanding of theology and spirituality into how I care for my patients and how I interact with families and the kind of work I do.”

Dormois maintains a strong interest in medical education and training, teaching a class on medical ethics to pre-med undergraduate students at the University of South Florida. He also serves as a preceptor for third-year medical students there and, with his wife, Joan Mellen, has established a resident training fund in cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt.

At age 72, he stands at the crossroads once again, but this time it’s at the intersection of medicine and spirituality, and it’s exactly where he wants to be.