On the evening of October 28, 2021, a momentous event occurred at the Tilton Mansion/University and Whist Club in Wilmington. A small but spirited group came together to honor the fifth recipient of the Tilton Award. Sponsored jointly by the Medical Society of Delaware and the Tilton Society, the award, appropriately named after the Medical Society of Delaware’s first President, recognizes achievement by a Medical Society of Delaware physician. I had the great privilege of not only nominating the recipient but also saying a few words about him.  Ray Blackwell, MD was this year’s recipient and joins the others recognized in prior years for their hard work, insight, creative thought, and devotion to improving many patient lives in the state. Although the number attending the event was smaller than last year, we all realized the importance of the festivities, and the celebratory nature of it rang loud and clear.
As I began my remarks, it hit me that this ceremony should not be one to check off in our minds and put away. On the contrary, it is events like this that should make all of us think long and hard about what we can do better. How we as physicians can make our patients and the communities in which they live healthier, and in the long run, happier.
What can we learn from Dr. James Tilton and Dr. Ray Blackwell that will help us in our endeavors to help our patients? Dr. Tilton lived from 1745-1822, different times from 2021, but in some ways, similar. Elizabeth Montgomery, a historian of early Wilmington and someone who knew Dr. Tilton, wrote “He was lean, unusually tall, a scholar and a gentleman.” Her comments fit Dr. Blackwell to a “T.” A century before germ theory was widely accepted, Dr. Tilton, the first surgeon general of the US Army, grasped the principle and used it to save the lives of men under his care in military hospitals. When he first started his medical practice in Kent County in 1771, he “was beginning to achieve a reputation for ability and conscientious devotion to his duties,” according to historian John Scharf. Dr. Tilton represented Delaware in the Continental Congress and served several terms in the state Legislature. 
Ms. Montgomery noted Dr. Tilton was “an original,” which has led me to wonder a lot about Dr. Blackwell following the award ceremony. One of my first interactions with him at the Medical Society of Delaware was at a meeting of the Delaware Medical Education Foundation (DMEF). Dr. Blackwell was just completing his term as chair and I was assuming his seat. Dr. Blackwell, in fact, helped recruit me to the role. Needless to say, those were big shoes to fill, and I hoped to be able to continue what he had started. His vision for social justice and the need for education fell right in line with what DMEF is all about. Yet his reach went further. In addition to his work with diversity, health equity, and inclusion and co-chairing the ChristianaCare Diversity, Inclusion, and Health Equity Committee, Dr. Blackwell has been a mentor and role model to many. These include underrepresented and underfunded medical students, as well as many young and established physicians. His work locally in hypertension has been amazing. The disease continues to be almost uncontrollable for many, especially African American patients. This has led to vast numbers of individuals with chronic kidney disease and many awaiting transplantation. His involvement in the Blood Pressure Ambassadors Program and subsequently chairing the Advisory Committee, Dr. Blackwell has already improved the lives for many thousands of individuals and will contribute to the health of many more going forward.
So as we think about Dr. Tilton and Dr. Blackwell and what they have done to achieve recognition, it strikes me as critical to ponder how we can follow in their footsteps. In his remarks, Dr. Blackwell spoke of how we can all contribute to the betterment of our patients and communities. It really doesn’t have to take a lot of time or energy. We, as physicians, have an obligation to treat our patients with great care, empathy, and kindness. We can and should advocate and educate them to live healthier lives. We can volunteer our services at various health care events. We can submit resolutions to the MSD Council and work with our legislators on health care issues of concern. We can write opinion pieces and work within our hospital systems and communities to provide information that can help guide those in leadership capacities.
At this time of year, we begin thinking of New Year’s resolutions for ourselves to maybe eat healthier, get more sleep or exercise, or spend more time with our families. However, as physicians, we are in a prime position to make change for the betterment of all. Let us follow in the footsteps of Dr. Tilton and Dr. Blackwell and resolve to do more for our patients, our communities, and for Delaware. By being a member of MSD, you are on the path to start making change.
Wishing you and yours a safe, happy, and healthy 2022!
All the best,
Matthew J. Burday, DO