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Reunion Speaker Spotlight

Watch the video above to learn more about Ricardo Nuila, M.D. ’06.

The art of healing at “The People’s Hospital” 

For many Houstonians not in the medical profession, Ben Taub Hospital provokes a common reaction: unless you’re poor or you’ve been shot, don’t go there — it’s not a “nice” hospital.  

It’s an unfair assessment, as shown in “The People’s Hospital: Hope and Peril in America Medicine,” the latest book by Ricardo Nuila, M.D. ’06, associate professor in the Section of General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine and director of the Humanities Expression and Arts Lab (HEAL) at Baylor College of Medicine.  

Ben Taub emerges as something of a contradiction in “The People’s Hospital.” It is a public hospital, relying on county funds to help serve approximately 1 million underinsured and uninsured individuals throughout Harris County, Texas. But, perhaps surprisingly, it is an excellent acute care facility, has an outstanding Level I trauma center, has earned several national honors in heart and stroke care and is staffed by highly skilled Baylor physician-faculty and residents.  

For many seeking care at Ben Taub — presenting with conditions as varied as cancer, vasoplegic syndrome (a form of shock) resulting in gangrene, liver failure, high-risk pregnancy and excruciating knee pain — a broken healthcare system has led them to this last stop despite their hard work and carefully laid plans. Yet they might have a good shot at getting the care they need because, despite challenges of providing Baylor-standard levels of care to an underserved population, Ben Taub doctors often can make care decisions without interference from insurance companies.  

At first glance, Ben Taub might seem a strange fit for a physician like Dr. Nuila, who seems to be a bit of a contradiction himself. He grew up knowing that he wanted to follow his father, uncle and grandfather into the medical profession, but he also had a deep love of storytelling. He studied English at Georgetown University before coming to Baylor, wondering if he would be able to keep writing. Unexpectedly, his non-medical interests were welcomed. 

“I found Baylor to be a real intellectual center,” Dr. Nuila said. “It wasn’t that you had to be just a doctor. People recognized that you had another part of you, and you could develop it, whatever it was.” 

The freedom to develop as an individual and a physician allowed Dr. Nuila to entwine literature and medicine. Reading novels with professors and drawing connections to patient care helped him overcome self-doubt in medical school. Writing during his off hours has helped him become a more observant and compassionate physician, and his work as a hospitalist has given him poignant material to capture. 

These experiences have proved so rewarding that Dr. Nuila was inspired to create and direct the HEAL, which aims to equip Baylor students with the intellectual tools to recognize the meaning behind their daily practice of medicine. It combines clinical experiences with close readings of literary works to hone skills like analysis, communication and empathy. 

“If you communicate in a courageous, efficient, effective, empathetic way, length of stay will improve, as will patient satisfaction scores, which helps the clinician provide care and helps them be more satisfied with their job,” Dr. Nuila said. 

To hear Dr. Nuila discuss “The People’s Hospital” at the 2024 Alumni Reunion, register here