Two weeks before my oldest cousin’s twenty-third birthday, he shot and killed himself. It scarred our family. The kind of jagged, gnarled scar, like a poorly-filled pothole, that -- even though it’s been nearly twenty years -- you still run your fingers across from time to time and feel the sting of a fresh wound. We weren’t all that close, but as a 14 year old, sorting through my own perceptions ...

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Talking to health care professionals about the importance of loving your patients and colleagues -- as I often do -- might raise eyebrows. How can we be expected to love our patients during a 15-minute clinic visit? How can love form among hospital teams coming together for a surgical procedure but then moving on to other work? Perhaps most importantly, how will this love make any difference in our patients' lives ...

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I recently had an enormous kidney stone. Well OK, it seemed enormous to me. But in terms of kidney stones, it was reasonably large; 9 mm, in fact. Large enough that I had to have lithotripsy (the use of sound waves to break up the stone) performed by my friend and most excellent urologist, Dr. Robert McAlpine in Seneca, SC. As uncomfortable as the whole experience was (and it wasn’t my ...

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Like an anthem, a holy grail, the word appears in every journal, every proposal, and every health strategic plan. “Quality.” We say, read and hear it so often we are developing quality fatigue. Like iterative hackneyed phrases such as “out-of-the-box”, “deep-dive” and perhaps even “personalized medicine,” quality has begun to feel like water torture and risks being deprived of flavor or meaning.  However, do not so fooled or bludgeoned that you lose ...

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I was talking with a few friends not long ago.  Our conversation somehow got to the issue of authority, and what exactly respect for authority looks like.  One of them, trying to make a point, turned to me and asked: "So you surely deal with people who don't listen to what you have to say.  What do you do when your patients don't take the medications you prescribe?" I think he ...

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My most important patient requires my constant diligence. For this reason, I am seldom far away from him. Only a few minutes inattention and there will be problems. I cannot forget my patient; I am trained to attend to him constantly. I am a professional, and my patient is, ultimately, my customer and the customer’s service is paramount, I am told. I am reminded by policies and procedures as well, ...

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When he turned 45, Mitch Alsup bought a red Corvette. Mitch is a quick-talking guy with dirty blonde hair and a short, trim physique. He has a ready smile and is willing to share his story. “As a kid, I use to go down to the Chevrolet dealership and sit in a Corvette,” he recalls. “I wanted one when I turned 18, but I came from a poor family. I had to ...

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When was the last time you used heroin?  In the past have you injected heroin or any other drugs?  Are you currently using drugs besides opiates like methamphetamines, cocaine, benzodiazepines or alcohol? After two years of family medicine residency, I ask these questions like they are questions that everyone asks in a casual conversation with a patient.  Although these types of interviews are customary for me, I recognize that it takes ...

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For decades and decades we have been counting the number of doctors in America. For decades and decades we have been coming up short compared to other developed nations, and some less developed ones as well. A poorly educated person may be tempted to suggest that we should “make” more doctors. After all, there is hardly a shortage of young people willing and able to undergo the rigors ...

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I thought about the rather corny starfish story when I was driving home after clinic today. You know the one. It goes something like this:

A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked, he could see a young boy in the distance. As he drew nearer, he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again ...

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