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Memo from the Editor: Touchstones


EDMEM0125 -- Touchstones


Memo From The Editor


By Marianne Dekker Mattera

I've spent a good deal of time over the last few weeks reading manuscripts from readers—submissions in our Doctors' Writing Contest. It's amazed me how many of them recount stories of patients who have changed their view of medicine, taught them what being a doctor really means. One of these prospective authors even acknowledged that most physicians probably have similar stories. See if you relate to any of these:

• The patient seen years before who comes back into your life at a stage when you can't do anything for him but help him die. And his family is grateful for that.

• The patient who started out as a friend, someone who shared a hobby and got you through a tough time, then became so much more as you watched your relationship change.

• The pregnant patient who loses a baby and, in letting you share in her sorrow, helps both of you heal and allows you to recognize the power that physicians have to help heal.

• The family member who's suddenly hospitalized, giving you a new understanding of the other side of the doctor/patient/family equation and helping you realize just how important things like listening to concerns, answering questions, and making sure the call bell is within reach really are.

There were stories, too, of doctors who've served as role models, helping the writer see the ideal. Again, see if you recognize a doctor like this:

• The one you connected with as a patient, with whom you were so simpatico that you began to understand why patients prefer one doctor in a group over another.

• The one who was your father and who let you see both sides of a doctor's life and encouraged your dreams anyway.

• The teacher whose one act or one phrase suddenly made it clear what was important.

These people and events have served as touchstones for the doctors who related their stories. They presented defining moments that, when the days get long and hard, can always be recalled, can always be used to rekindle the flame that called a young man or woman to medicine in the first place.

I hope you have had such a moment, met such a patient, known such a physician. We all need a touchstone. We all need to remember why we went into the profession we chose. Because life is complicated, we get caught up in the hassles—and there are so many in medicine these days—and it's easy to be tempted to chuck it all and try something else. We need to remember why we're doing what we're doing.

Last issue, Anne Scheetz spoke to you in this column about how she's determined since Sept. 11 to listen to her patients more. She'll still give the typical kinds of lifestyle advice that doctors are supposed to give, but she'll ask patients what they feel is important to work on, or how they think a goal can be reached.

I felt that Dr. Scheetz's message was a good one to present at the start of a new year. She'd determined to change the way she practices and start looking at patients in a new light, with a new resolution.

It's still not too late to make New Year's resolutions, though. So I urge you now to dust off your own touchstone—that one encounter that brought home to you what it really means to be a physician—and resolve to think of it once a day.

Maybe at the start of the day to get you off on the right foot. Maybe in the middle of the day to keep you from screaming at the assistant or shuddering at the thought of seeing Mrs. So-and-so in room 3. Maybe at the end of the day so you can make it back to the office the next day.

Maybe just to remember that being a physician is a special thing if you'll let it be, if you'll allow yourself to touch others and to let them touch you.


Marianne Mattera. Memo from the Editor: Touchstones. Medical Economics 2002;2:7.

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