Treating his far-flung patients like family
As a student, Nicholas J. Paslidis dreamed of a brilliant career in academic medicine.
Following medical school in the US, the Greek native completed a PhD in molecular biology before beginning an internal medicine residency at the University of Texas at Houston. In 1995, he moved to Boston with his wife and two daughters for a fellowship in gastroenterology at Harvard Medical School.
But six months along, Paslidis experienced a change of heart. "Looking around at the underserved, I thought the biggest need wasn't for more research and more papers, but for more direct patient care," he says today.
Paslidis and his family moved to Little Rock, AR, where his wife had grown up. He signed up with White River Rural Health Centers, a network of 12 primary care clinics serving mostly older and indigent patients. Suddenly, the world of test tubes and lecture halls seemed very remote.
The pace of his practice for the last five years has been frenetic. On an especially busy Thursday recently, Paslidis rose at 4:30 am to begin his workday.
From Little Rock, he drove the 62 miles northeast to the city of Searcy. After completing his morning rounds at one hospital, he moved across town to another. There he checked on several other patients and performed two endoscopic procedures. From Searcy, he made the short drive to the clinic at Kensett, where he saw patients until noon. A lunch on the fly brought him 37 miles south to the Des Arc Nursing Home. While in town, he also made two house calls before heading farther south to the clinic in Hazen, approximately 20 miles away. Finishing up at 5 pm, he made his third house call of the day. Then it was back to Searcy for consultation with a patient's family.
It was now early evening, but Paslidis' day wasn't over yet. An administrative meeting at Searcy Medical Center lasted until 9:30, followed by the 62-mile drive back to Little Rock. At 10:3018 hours after starting his dayPaslidis arrived home. He'd driven well over 200 miles and seen scores of patients and their family members. In just a few short hours, he'd begin the cycle again.
Besides his clinic duties, Paslidis works with local churches to provide food and clothing for the poorest of his patients. He's also gotten pharmaceutical companies to donate needed drugs.
His devotion, say those who know him best, is related to his heritage. "The Greek community treats even strangers in its charge as family," says cardiologist Miltiadis N. Leon, who knew Paslidis in Houston and is also a Greek native. Patient James Baker, stricken with multiple sclerosis 16 years ago, agrees that Paslidis treats his patients like family: "Dr. Paslidis is more like a brother than a doctor."
But how long can Paslidis keep up his 15- to 18-hour days and 1,200-mile weeks?
"Perhaps someday I'll return to academia," he says, "but right now I enjoy what I do so much that that day seems very far away."
Wayne Guglielmo. Doctors Who Go the Extra Mile. Medical Economics 2000;7:201.