“What I like about being a physician is the relationships. They became the key to my enjoyment of medicine. They are built on listening at a critical time. People come to the doctor to tell their story and if the patient doesn’t have a chance to tell their story it’s an unsatisfactory encounter. I came to view medicine’s job as helping patients by listening to their symptoms and helping them to find an ending to their story. Patients can choose my suggested ending or not – for example they can take the chemo or go on holiday to Mexico. I know the perception is that medicine is about curing illness but that is an uncommon outcome
I like the idea of medicine as an “avocation” rather than “vocation”. What you do and what you are become so closely related. I taught school for a few years before I figured out medicine was what I was going to do. I was actually lucky to be accepted as I realized, after we were assigned our dissecting tables in first year, that the order of the tables was the order of the selection committees’ opinion. So table number 1 had all these super bright people and I was near the last table. I think I only received a place because somebody who had been given the chance to get in decided to go somewhere else. Life goes like that, no?
I particularly liked delivering babies and attended many births. I wrote articles about maternity care, I taught maternity care and maternity care was a source of international travel. I’ve been going to China since 2000. I don’t think Chinese doctors need anyone to teach them but it expands our understanding to share across cultures. I’m interested in hearing what doctors in other countries know as well as what I might teach.
What I enjoyed about delivering babies was that it was never anything short of miraculous: you go into a room with 2 people, you leave with 3. Usually birth brings joy. Sometimes it brings disaster. Assisting at a birth involves some technical skills but it also builds relationships that you don’t get with other parts of medicine. When I stopped doing maternity care I switched to nursing home care as it provides some of the same meaningful relationships with families.”
Tell me about your spiritual life.
“I was born in Scotland and grew up Presbyterian However, I think we get caught up too much over arguments of doctrine. I’m comfortable to go to most any church that is authentic. We call ourselves Christians because we aspire to be followers of Christ. One of the terms used for Jesus that I really like is rabbi, teacher. He just went around talking to people, teaching people and telling stories. So my faith journey is to figure out how to be like Jesus: caring, provocative, intolerant of injustice and, most difficult of all, being prepared to die, being prepared to suffer for the things I believe in. I don’t suffer: nice home, nice family. So that’s the dimension that I struggle with: how to get out of my comfort zone to do what is right.”