Deaf pioneer’s parents demonstrated the value of asserting one’s self


Their four-year-old son was deaf.

It was before mainstreaming. Dr. Philip Zazove’s parents were both family physicians. They thought his success in life would be limited if he was enrolled in a deaf school, as many recommended. His education and socialization would suffer.

So they insisted that normal schools accept him.

Their son was up for the challenge. He had already learned to read lips, went to class like his peers and prevailed.

As he grew, his regular schooling continued, even though administrators still didn’t want to admit him. Even medical schools didn’t want a deaf student. But Zazove prevailed.

Dr. Philip Zazove is the George A. Dean M.D. Chair of the Department of Family Medicine and one of the few deaf physicians in the United States. (Photo by Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

“I did learn the value of being assertive from my parents,” he says. Upon graduation, he became the third known deaf doctor in the United States.

“I liked science. I liked the idea of helping people. I liked the variety of conditions you see in family medicine and getting to really know patients. There’s so many factors to consider,” Zazove says.

After eight years of private practice and 26 years as a faculty member in family medicine, Zazove since 2012 has been the George A. Dean M.D. Chair of the U-M Health System’s Department of Family Medicine.

To explain his initial move from private practice to academia, Zazove says he followed his wife, researcher Dr. Barbara Reed — now a professor of family medicine at the Medical School — to Michigan in 1989. He took a faculty position as well.

As department chair, Zazove says his role is to support faculty members in their various endeavors, and represent his department at the Medical School. During his nearly three years on the job, he says the department has collaborated effectively with the school’s other 22 departments.

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“We’re becoming more of a coordinated entity within the Medical School, which is good. And in family medicine we’ve been slowly able to increase the number of minority faculty, and the number of faculty being promoted, which means they are being successful in their careers,” Zazove says.

But he stresses the credit goes to his predecessors. “When I became chair, the department was already a vibrant place. As Isaac Newton said: ‘I’ve succeeded because I stood on the shoulders of giants.'”

Zazove has continued to give back to those who, like him, are deaf. He pursues research investigating why people with hearing loss tend to have poorer health. He also has created a scholarship program, The Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation, that honors his late mother and helps deaf students pay for college. Typically, a review committee of foundation volunteers chooses two recipients each year from more than 100 applicants.

Zazove has written two books, including a biography, “When the Phone Rings, My Bed Shakes,” referring to the motor he attached to his bed to serve as an alert for a ringing telephone. His second book is a poignant story about a deaf woman set in Michigan, and he is working on a third about a deaf detective.


What moment in the classroom or lab stands out as the most memorable?

“The vast majority of my work is not in the classroom or lab. I do give a large lecture once yearly to second-year medical students, and also to anthropology students. I’m impressed with the fact that in both situations I almost always hear from at least one student telling me they, or their family member, have a severe hearing loss but they haven’t told anyone about.”

What can’t you live without?

My family.

What is your favorite spot near campus?

Kayaking on the Huron River.

What inspires you?

The people I work and live with.

What are you currently reading?

“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My parents and my wife — both in so many ways, and without whom I wouldn’t be where I am.


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