Since I was 12 years old, I wanted to become a small town family doctor. My parents bought me a set of Golden Books Encyclopedia around that time and I enjoyed reading about the summaries of the various occupations in those books. I was drawn to the occupations in the field of science and specifically the field of medicine. It really was a life changing experience to know at a young age what I wanted to do with my life. I was very good at math and science and I wanted to help people. Becoming a family doctor was a straightforward conclusion.
After finishing my residency and two years as a Commissioned Officer in the National Health Service Corps, I joined a small-town group practice that was founded in 1948 by three family doctors who were all World War II veterans. In 1983, I became the 5 th partner in a practice of 35,000 patients in a great small town. In addition to seeing patients, I have gone on in my career to executive leadership in health ambulatory groups as well as Medical Director of a health plan. About a year ago, I left my executive roles and returned to full-time practice of family medicine.
I’ve saved many lives during my nearly 40 years of being a family physician and I will be sharing my stories with you all through this blog. But let’s start with the inspiration for our tagline of ‘SAVING LIVES IN SLOW MOTION™’. This came from caring for patients in my current practice. My employer is a national medical group that engages directly with employers to provide medical care for their employees and dependents. I am the medical group’s first physician in Pennsylvania and have a panel of a few thousand patients that has grown quickly over the first year of the clinic’s existence.
One of my first patients in this new role is a healthy fellow in his mid-40s who came into the office to establish care and have a wellness visit. He had not seen a doctor for several years but he had no medical problems or complaints. His examination was normal except for being about 30 pounds overweight. I always like to obtain a baseline panel of tests on new patients and when I reviewed his labs, I discovered that he had prediabetes and elevated cholesterol. I asked him to come back in to review these findings and establish a plan of care for him. He came in and we chatted about these newly discovered conditions. Initially, he didn’t believe that these new diagnoses were significant. In fact, his initial impression was that I was making a mountain out of a molehill but he kept coming back as requested. It took several more visits to persuade him that these conditions posed a significant threat to his long-term health and might lead to serious long term complications.
By his fourth visit, however, his diet improved, he had started exercising regularly, he’d lost 15 pounds, and his blood sugar and cholesterol were improving. About 10 minutes into the visit, he looked at me and said, “Doc, you saved my life! I appreciate that you’ve taken the time and interest to work with me to help me recognize the path I had been on and I truly believe that you have saved my life.” Well, I was quite surprised at his reaction and my response was “That’s what family doctors do! We save peoples’ lives in slow motion. You won’t see us on TV cracking chests or doing emergency heart surgery. It’s just not sexy enough for TV. But when you add it all up, family doctors save more lives than people realize. Thank you for hanging in there. I simply helped you save your own life.”
However, there is no doubt that this little conversation during a routine office visit changed both of our lives. I have come to realize that very few people achieve their life’s dreams and I am grateful that I have been one of those fortunate few. I’ve never regretted the path I’ve taken but medicine has been quite a journey from the days of Marcus Welby, MD, to the corporate giant that healthcare has become today.