From high school dropout to teacher of youth
By Gail Garfinkel Weiss, Senior Associate Editor
Ob/Gyn William G. Louis' office is a welcome oasis for patients and their children.
What does a 54-year-old high school dropout-turned-doctor talk aboutwith teenagers? He tells them about the importance of a good education,of course. In Killeen, TX, ob/gyn William George Louis, (above), has becomethe go-to man whenever a local school needs a community leader to give studentsa dose of reality or support a worthwhile project.
A native New Yorker, Louis left high school in his junior year because"I got distracted; I didn't feel like learning." But he didn'tstay away from the classroom for long. He enlisted in the Army at age 17,got his GED the next year, and--after serving in Southeast Asia during theVietnam War--completed college and medical school on the Army's dime. Whenhe left the military in 1986 to enter private practice, he had served for23 years--16 of them spent advancing his education.
Louis' odyssey from unfocused youth to practicing physician has madehim almost evangelical about encouraging young people to pursue worthwhilegoals. At elementary schools, for example, he reads to the children as partof a mentoring program, and does his best to skewer notions that the roadto success is paved only with basketballs and hundred-dollar sneakers.
"Sports is such a big thing to low- and middle-income kids,"he says. "They don't understand that their chances of making it asa professional athlete are remote, even if they have talent. I tell themthey need goals that will enable them to support themselves and build afuture--that there are plenty of people working in menial jobs because theynever developed their mental skills."
Addressing junior and senior high school students, Louis usually focuseson the need for responsible sexual behavior. Killeen abounds with young,single recruits from the neighboring Fort Hood military installation, andall too frequently, Louis sees the results of their nights on the town:Girls as young as 12 show up in his office, pregnant. "When I teachsex education," he says, "I tell the female students that untilthey find a guy who's willing to view them as a whole human being--not justa body--they shouldn't bother with him. I let girls know that they're farmore likely to go to college and realize their dreams if they're not burdenedwith major responsibilities, like motherhood."
His directness, leavened with humor, empathy, and compassion, has madeLouis a favorite of patients and staff. "He's a wonderful person towork for," says Paula Jennings, Louis' office manager. "And patientslove him. He really wants them to participate in their health care."
Louis wins praise for his strong convictions--and for being quick toput his money where his convictions are. To encourage science students consideringa career in medicine, he chartered a bus and took them to his alma mater,Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. He has also been known to take studentswith behavior problems on grand tours of the local hospital, where theydon surgical scrubs and enter the OR.
Louis' good works extend to the community, but not everyone appreciatesthem. Soon after the doctor donated funds to put a surveillance camera ina patrol car, a close friend of his was nabbed for running a red light.
Gail Weiss. Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile: William G. Louis. Medical Economics 1999;23:137.