Spring 2022

A Life Extinguished

HMS mourns the killing of alumnus Preston Phillips, MD

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Preston Phillips around the time he attended Harvard Medical School

Preston Phillips around the time he attended Harvard Medical School

On Wednesday, June 1, Dean George Q. Daley and the HMS community learned of the killing of one of its alumni: Preston Phillips, MD, who matriculated with the Class of 1988 and graduated in 1990. Phillips and three others were shot and killed in the Natalie Medical Building, part of the St. Francis Health System in Tulsa, Oklahoma, allegedly by a man who had been Phillips’ patient. According to those who knew Phillips, his death is a deep, inexplicable, horrific tragedy, a loss to medicine and to humanity.

Phillips graduated from HMS with honors and completed an orthopedic residency at Yale as well as fellowships at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Boston Children’s Hospital. While at Harvard, he worked with Augustus White III, the Ellen and Melvin Gordon Distinguished Professor of Medical Education and an HMS professor of orthopedic surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess; together they produced a book on back pain written for the lay public. Phillips also earned advanced degrees in organic chemistry and pharmacology and in theology from Emory University.

In addition to being a skilled orthopedic surgeon who specialized in spine disorders, joint reconstruction, and surgical procedures, Phillips was a fellow of the American Orthopedic Association, the Scoliosis Research Society, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, and the J. Robert Gladden Orthopaedic Society, which works to increase diversity in orthopedics. He was a member of the board of directors of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, which works to transform social divisions into social harmony in memory of those lost in the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa. He was the former team physician for the Tulsa Shock, part of the Women’s National Basketball Association. In addition, Phillips participated in medical missions to Africa, organized by the Tulsa-based Light in the World Development Foundation.

In an email announcing Phillips’s death, Dean Daley wrote, “On behalf of the entire Harvard Medical School community, I share my deepest sympathy with all who knew and loved Dr. Phillips. My heart goes out to them and to the families of all the adults and children who have died as a result of gun violence. Tragically, this incident is the latest in a seemingly unending series of devastating shootings that serve as painful and recurring reminders that gun violence is a medical and public health crisis in this country.”

Andrea Reid, MD ’88, associate dean for student and multicultural affairs in the Program for Medical Education at HMS and director of the Office of Recruitment and Multicultural Affairs, was a classmate of Phillips and shared her sorrow at his death with ORMA students, writing, “Preston was a wonderful man and orthopedic surgeon. He excelled at HMS; he was a star! He was a huge presence, both physically (6'5" or so) and spiritually, with a generous, inclusive, and open heart. He loved people, gave the biggest bear hugs, and had the best (deep) laugh in the class. The Class of ’88 is reeling, especially the Black students. This has also deeply affected other ORMA students who were here when Preston graced these halls.”

“Gun violence and murder have affected the HMS community before,” Reid added, “but this murder of an ORMA family member is painful in a way that I cannot describe adequately at this time. He was hunted by someone he tried to heal.”

Image: Courtesy of Janet Kinnane