“To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art ...”
Oath of Hippocrates, 5th century BCE
“How can you help this human being?”Lewis Goldfrank, MD, July 2003
Most of us can point out that one person who became our true professional mentor, the one who taught us the most about the Art and where our hearts should be while we practice healing with our minds and hands. Four years out of residency and finally ready to reflect on what it means to transcend from learning, to being a physician, I found myself in dire need to see him again. It was not to inquire about a job, to ask for a recommendation, or to collaborate on a project. It was the more pressing, unfinished business that suddenly could not wait any longer. It was my time to thank him.
We met for sushi in a small place where I spent countless hours as a resident studying for in-service exams, fueled by green tea and fear of embarrassment in front of my fellow residents. There was just too much to know and too little time to devote to it. And, subliminally, there was dread that of all the attendings, HE in particular, would be disappointed.
Today, equals in the eyes of patients searching for relief, sharing a strangely unhurried meal and a bond of completed training, we sit and I can finally verbalize raw emotions. I am no longer intimidated to tell him how I imprinted on him. His lessons translate through me to my patients every day that I work. It wasn’t the information. That’s in the book and much of it a little wrong by now. It was his presence, his values, his character. It’s what I now become when it all hits the fan on a busy shift and I must think and do more than usual and customary. And I remember I wasn’t so easy to train, thanking him for his patience.
He appreciates the kind words and speaks of the joys of being an educator. I know he implies joys and pains and call him on it. Some people take more effort, he replies with a smirk and I laugh. By the process of training me, he modeled and taught me patience.
We talk about the practice, the business, the politics. We agree that the ups and downs are par for the course. He admits still loving the work, and I rejoice that there is hope I too will love it forever. We transition to families and philosophy and share the balance of our personal and professional lives. We disagree on a point, and comfortably remain opposed, respectful that this too is par.
Let’s stay in touch, we agree. We will. I apologize for taking so long to do this, and he knows I am sincere. Thank you for everything, I say, calling him by his first name for the first time. It’s about time. I walk away fulfilled and again, inspired. To do and to teach, to model presence and values, to pass along the intangibles that mean so much more than facts and data. To be more.