Kim Williams, MD on Building an Evidence-based and Inclusive Cardiology Profession: PYP 218

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Kim Williams, MD, is past president of the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

Let's take a moment to appreciate how amazing that is.

First of all, he grew up poor and black on the South Side of Chicago. One winter he ended up in the hospital with pneumonia; his family couldn't afford to buy him a coat. His step-dad died of an intercranial hemorrhage when Kim was five years old.

Second, Dr Williams chose medical school over a promising career as a professional tennis player.

Third, he's the first and thus far only president of the ACC to “come out” as a vegan. The current chairman of cardiology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has been vegan himself since 2003, and now recommends a vegan diet to his patients as the first line of defense against heart disease.

I was thrilled when he agreed to be a guest on the podcast. What I didn't realize was the breadth and depth of the conversation we would have, ranging from tennis to his work in encouraging communities of color to produce cardiologists who can return to their communities to reverse and eventually prevent their epidemic of heart disease.

On the Internet, Dr Williams is best known for a meme quote: “There are two kinds of cardiologist: vegans and those who haven't read the data.” What's missing from that seeming dismissal of 99.9% of his profession is first part of his statement: “I like to joke…”

This is important because Dr Williams isn't trying to trash his colleagues. When I asked him about this, his reply was simple: “I don't want to stop until the leading cause of death among cardiologists is no longer cardiovascular disease.”

Wow. That's powerful.

And so is everything else about this brilliant, passionate, energetic, and graceful human being.

In our conversation, we covered:

  • growing up poor, black, and underserved by the medical profession
  • taking responsibility to do something about that – and starting by becoming a better student of science and math
  • becoming one of the best chess players in Illinois
  • trying out for the tennis team on a lark
  • getting into The Program in the University of Chicago (UC) for tennis, and getting admitted to UC
  • paying tuition by giving tennis lessons
  • the back injury that changed everything – possibly for the best
  • discovering the work of Ancel Keys
  • David Jenkins research on plant sterols and soluble fiber equaling statins in reducing cholesterol
  • what is nuclear medicine, and specifically nuclear cardiology
  • the crisis of underrepresented women and minorities in cardiology, and the lack of mentors and positive role models
  • the surprising “Grey's Anatomy” effect on a generation of female surgeons
  • how industry skews and misrepresents data on food and diet
  • the watering down of government-sponsored nutritional guidance
  • how to tell the difference between science and pseudo-science (hint: follow the money)
  • and much more…

Enjoy, add your voice to the conversation via the comment box below, and please share – that's how we spread our message and spread our roots.

Links

NY Times article: “Advice from a Vegan Cardiologist”

Dr Williams' professional page

Cardiology magazine profile of Dr Williams (includes amazing 1971 photo of him about to hit a backhand)

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Music

The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

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