Zazove said that many physicians still are unaware of the health care experiences and accommodation needs of those with disabilities.
Philip Zazove, M.D., as a family physician who has lived his life with profound hearing loss, is well acquainted with overcoming adversity. He’s had to prove himself repeatedly as someone who is just as competent and capable as someone without a disability.
This was true from an early age, as he attended public school as a child growing up in Lincolnwood, Ill. (near Evanston and Skokie), where he was one of the first deaf children mainstreamed in the northern Chicago suburbs. He then attended college at Northwestern University.
Zazove, who is Jewish, decided to attend medical school. Due to his deafness, he faced countless rejections by medical schools before finally gaining admittance at Rutgers Medical School. Despite those ongoing challenges, he was able to establish his own medical practice in Utah in 1981, and then joined the University of Michigan as an assistant professor in 1989.
Zazove has served as the second George A. Dean, M.D. Chair of Family Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan (U-M) since 2011. The chair was established in 2006, thanks to a generous donation by family medicine pioneer George A. Dean, M.D., and his wife Vivian, who have been long-time leaders and philanthropists in the Metro Detroit Jewish community.
Zazove is now ready to retire after a lifetime of impressive achievements.
“It’s time for someone with new ideas and energy to come in,” said Zazove, who turned 70 in 2021. “Also, I’m ready to spend more time with my wife (Barbara Reed, M.D., MSPH, professor emeritus of family medicine at U-M).”
Zazove, who has been a member of Temple Beth Emeth and the Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor, leaves behind a tremendous legacy as a deaf clinician and researcher. He has tirelessly advocated for health care for people with disabilities and has pushed for changes that have opened access to medical school education to students who also have disabilities, not only at the University of Michigan but across the globe.
“There’s so much work to be done in improving the health and lives of people with disabilities — and most of us will develop a disability at some point in our lives,” he said.
Zazove said that many physicians still are unaware of the health care experiences and accommodation needs of those with disabilities. Many clinicians also feel uncomfortable treating this patient population, even though over 20% of Americans (approximately 61 million people) have a disability.
Under Zazove’s leadership, the Department of Family Medicine faculty has taken an active role in caring for those with disabilities. They have also advocated for making changes in COVID vaccine site layouts so that patients with all types of disabilities can use them.
Their work also includes the establishment of Michigan Medicine’s Deaf Health Clinic. Zazove, along with Michael M. McKee, M.D., MPH, who also has hearing loss, serve as co-directors. The Deaf Health Clinic is the only one of its kind in Michigan and is in Dexter. The clinic serves deaf patients from across the state.
Faculty also have conducted a wide range of research, including studies that have impacted those with disabilities.
“We have an amazing group of highly-skilled researchers in our department,” Zazove said. “Their expertise in so many areas, including women’s health, deafness, disabilities, adolescence, diabetes and mixed methods research is inspiring. The impact of so many of our findings on so many people worldwide has been gratifying for me as department chair. It’s why we all went into health care — to help our fellow humans.”
Zazove and Family Medicine faculty have also helped increase basic awareness that those with disabilities have the right to practice medicine if that is a career they wish to pursue. This includes addressing inappropriate technical standards for admission to medical schools; the provision of accommodations that are appropriate for medical students; and working with state and national organizations to support medical professionals with disabilities.
Charting his Own Course as a Family Physician
As someone who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s, Zazove knows the daily obstacles that someone who is deaf or hard of hearing faces. Some of these barriers still exist today.
Though academic and professional expectations were low for Zazove, his parents, Earl and Louise, both physicians, refused to send him to a state school for deaf children and instead enrolled him in public schools. He drew support and inspiration from both, especially his mother.
“Every successful younger person with a disability I’ve met had supportive parents or mentors,” Zazove said. “I think that’s also what really allowed me to be so successful. I was always told I could do what I wanted. Perhaps the fact that my mother grew up poor and had to overcome many obstacles to become a physician indicated to me that many obstacles can be overcome with perseverance and hard work.”
His mother, Louise Tumarkin Zazove, graduated from Hunter College and became the first female medical student in her class at Chicago Medical School. She graduated in three years by attending classes seven days a week during World War II.
Zazove matriculated at Rutgers Medical School, then transferred to and graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in 1978. He also graduated with honors from the Executive Master’s Program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1994. He has authored two books, including an autobiography, When the Phone Rings, My Bed Shakes: Memoirs of a Deaf Doctor.
“When I started in practice, there was little support for and recognition of the health issues that people with disabilities have,” he said. “As a physician with hearing loss, I couldn’t hear the beeper go off and there was no text available to read, just a voice I couldn’t understand or even hear. Now we have cell phones that vibrate, with text that can be read and responded to.”
Along with his clinical practice and research, he has served on Michigan Medicine, regional, statewide and national committees such as the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses, the Division of Deafness for the State of Michigan, the Association of Departments of Family Medicine, the advisory board for the National Center for Deaf Health Research, the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine, and the Family Medicine Department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
Carrying Forth Dr. Zazove’s Legacy
To commemorate all that Zazove has contributed to the Department of Family Medicine, to his patients, especially those who have disabilities, and the impactful research he has conducted and published over the decades, the Department of Family Medicine is establishing the Philip Zazove, M.D. Disability Health Endowment Fund at Michigan Medicine.
The fund will promote and support disability efforts in the Department of Family Medicine and across Michigan Medicine, including patient care, research, education and community outreach, with an overarching goal of access, equity and inclusion.
Some of the programs Family Medicine faculty have established during Zazove’s tenure to help those with disabilities include an adaptive sports and fitness program for those with disabilities and MDisability, a collaborative program that focuses on improving the inclusion of people with disabilities in healthcare research, education, practice, and community engagement.
Zazove has also conducted research impacting those with disabilities, including a study that utilizes an electronic alert to remind clinicians to ask older patients about hearing loss. The study found that the electronic prompt significantly increased awareness of hearing limitations and audiology referrals for at-risk patients. He has also conducted research in cancer prevention in those with profound hearing loss and health care use among those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
No Regrets Pursuing Family Medicine
Zazove said he made the right choice going into family medicine. His work has allowed him to follow patients and their health through the years.
“Getting to know patients and their families well, and caring for entire families from birth to death, has been so rewarding,” he said. “The feedback from patients … is heartwarming. I know all family docs have similar experiences, as witnessed by many of the stories I hear from them.”
In retirement, Zazove said he plans to enjoy time with his wife, two daughters, who are both CEOs of their own companies, and his four grandchildren. He will continue to be active in the sports he loves — including cross-country skiing in the winter and kayaking and swimming in the summer — and enjoying his dogs, of which there have been eight over the years.
He also plans to finish two books he’s been working on, one featuring a deaf detective and another about his grandmother, who emigrated from Russia in the late 19th century and was a leader in the Ladies Garment Workers Union of America. Additionally, he wants to devote more time and effort to the Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation, which was established in memory of his mother. This 19-year-old foundation provides four-year, $3,800 annual college scholarships to individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Support Well Placed
George Dean, now in his 90s, was instrumental in creating the Department of Family Medicine at U-M in 1978. He also helped establish Family Medicine Departments at other Michigan universities and played a critical role in advocating for the recognition of Family Medicine as a vital component of the overall health care landscape.
Dean, who practiced family medicine in Southfield, said he developed a close relationship with Zazove in the time that Zazove was department chair.
“He is a magnificent example of someone who has overcome a disability and become chair of one of the best Family Medicine departments in the country,” he said. “Very quietly and very unassumingly, Phil has been able to create this wonderful department and advanced the need for disabled people to receive excellent health care. He has gone above and beyond his duties as chairman. I can’t speak more highly about what he has created.”
Dean also throws his full support behind the establishment of the Philip Zazove, M.D. Disability Health Endowment and encourages others to contribute to the fund.
“The endowment perpetuates the leadership that Phil has shown in disability health, and I think that is so important today,” said Dean. “He’s a perfect role model” as a family physician who cares for all patients with kindness and compassion.
Elizabeth Katz is a science communicator in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan and has written healthcare stories for the Detroit Jewish News.