Saturday, March 26, 2011


Although I do hope that many of you will eventually read my book, I labor under no misconception that everyone will. Therefore, there is one small excerpt from the acknowledgements page at the end of the book that I wanted to share here, because, quite simply, as many people as possible need to know about how important these people were and have been to me, and to the thousands of young doctors that preceded and followed.

...In medicine, role models are everything, and while I have had countless mentors that have made lasting impressions on me, I would like to single out three in particular: Dr. Steve Z. Miller, Dr. Glenda Garvey, and Dr. Ingrid Fitz-James. Every single day, I remember what you taught me, and whatever good I have accomplished as a doctor has simply been from doing exactly what you told me to.

Dr. Miller I've spoken about several times on this website, and thinking about him always makes me tear up just a little bit, because he was such a good man, with so much left to do in this life.  People say that things happen for a reason, but those of us in medicine see all too clearly that sometimes there just is no reason, sometimes senseless things happen to good people, young people, and the sense of waste is truly tragic. But in addition to his family and his gorgeous children, Dr. Miller achieved the truest type of immortality.  He is still practicing medicine today, through all of us that, whether we know it or not, will continue to channel his voice, his approach to patients, and his attention to the unspoken details.

(To learn more about the Steve Miller Medical Education Day at Columbia University, click here.)

Dr. Garvey is also no stranger to this blog.  I first talked about her very early on, because she's just that kind of doctor that inspires absolute idolism and devotion in medical students--especially young, idealistic lady med students like me.  The thing with Dr. Garvey was, my worship of her never waned, and in fact, only strengthened throughout the years.  She was quite simply one of the smartest people I'd ever met, and her ability to balance that keen intellect with such a sense of true warmth and caring and effortless grace is something that I wish I could emulate if only I knew how.

Some months after Dr. Garvey passed away, I got an e-mail from her family, telling me how much what I had written about her on my blog had meant to them, and had meant to her.  Which, at the time, felt almost embarrassing to me, that the public sum of my gratitude could be quantified only as a handful of skimpy blog entries and and, now, an acknowledgement in the back of a book.  But Dr. Garvey, as an Infectious Disease Specialist, would surely have appreciated that there's more; that what's visible pales in comparison to the what's unseen and intangible but nonetheless fills the spaces between.

(To learn more about the Glenda Garvey Teaching Academy, click here.)

Dr. Fitz-James is quite simply the woman who taught me how to be an anesthesiologist.  Period.  She was my "one-to-one" mentor when I first started training in anesthesia (all first-year anesthesia residents are thus closely supervised during the first few weeks of their training), and I have to admit, I was a little bit afraid of her.  She was so firey and intense, and she would look at you with these EYES that could on one hand indicate that you were brilliant and destined for success, or else that you were the biggest fuck-up that ever lived, and you might as well start packing your bags now because your career in anesthesia was going to be a short one.  She had this way of calling us all doctor ("Doctor Au...") in this dry, arch way that always left some doubt whether or not she was putting invisible air quotes around the honorific.  And damn it if you didn't try all the harder to show her you could live up to that expectation.

Dr. Fitz-James is so smart, and she cares so deeply, and her commitment to not just doing things, but doing things right, every single time, had a deep and lasting impact on me.  As an attending anesthesiologist, there is not a single day that passes that I am not doing things just the way Dr. Fitz-James taught me.  And thank goodness for that.

Did you or do you know Dr. Miller, Dr. Garvey, or Dr. Fitz-James?  What was their impact on you?  Or, for those who trained in other institutions, who inspired you, and how did they do it?  The comments section is open.


  1. Dr Robert Block! He's currently the president-elect of the AAP.

    The first time I was 100% sure that I was taking the wrong path (i.e. business not medicine) was when I spoke with my family to his residents about growing up in a family with chronic illness (my part) and remembering that patients are also people (my parents part). I pretty much hated my life at the time (MIS ... yuck!) and was completely jealous of the people sitting in the audience who were doing what I wanted to do! However, I was 3 months shy of graduating and I already had a fantastic job lined up.

    However, I couldn't spend my life doing something I despised when I could be doing something I loved. When the time came, six years later, to actually apply and interview, he sat me down and mock-interviewed me. He reminded me that I was going to be a med student not a technology consultant and would need to begin living like a med student. He reminded me to pick what I love and follow my dreams. He told me I was making the right decision (which was sooo needed at the time).

    He is such an amazing doctor and has made such an impact on some many peoples' (people's?) lives, especially mine!

    Others (because I would feel guilty not mentioning them as they all help me all of the bloody darn time and I could not be here without them) ... Dr Jeremy Jagoda, Dr Eliot Fagley, and Dr Robin Dyer

  2. woah ... that was a little longer than I expected it to be ... sorry about that! :)

  3. Anonymous1:37 PM

    I know that those who are current UNC students or alumni will agree with me that Dr. Alan Cross has done incredible work throughout his career to promote a dedication to caring, acceptance and community-based health approaches in the medical profession.

    He has always spoken up for what he knows is right--condom distribution in schools, sponsorship of the QSA...even in what has sometimes been a difficult political climate.

  4. Anonymous2:46 PM

    I had the good fortune to be a medical student at the University of Maaschusetts during the tenure of Chancellor Aaron Lazare, who, in addition to being a terrific psychiatrist and humanitarian, knew most of the medical students by name. He spoke to us more than a few times of the necessity of humility in medicine, and about the concept of "shame" on the part of physician and patient, a state of being that we must acknowledge and work with.

    I recall he once said to me that he never got over his own feeling of inadequacy and amazement that he was admitted to medical school in the first place, being not entirely sure he was "good enough", and how the fact that he went on to have many people (his patients, students, etc) trust him still felt like an undeserved honor after many years in practice.

    He taught me to embrace my doubts, to continue learning, and never assume I was correct, to challenge and re-challeng my assumptions, which has served me very well as a doctor.

  5. Anonymous3:33 PM

    Anon 2:46 pm--I always like it when profs/docs know my name (instead of just med student).

  6. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Dr. T - who never introduced himself as Dr. T, but just with his first name. He was my Emergency Medicine one-on-one preceptor, and although i was assigned to a different doc, a mix-up in schedules meant that i worked with him one shift - i immediately asked to change over all my other shifts to be preceptored by him. Then, throughout the course of my training, i continued to do electives with him years later.

    He was (is) an awesome, brilliant, incredibly smart and down-to-eath attending to work with, esp for a newbie clerk at the time and really, he shaped my whole love of ER which lead to where i am today. He never, ever spoke as if he were yee-god-almighty-attending, and instead listened to you - and if you didnt put in the effort, he would be the first to give you this 'look' and just turn away and you KNEW that this lazy BS wasnt going to fly - which made you work triple hard.

    He understood the adjustment to clerkship and residency, always sat down and would talk one-on-one about the stresses and coping with it. I remember him, more than once, putting chocolate bars or treats in his students' lab pockets to "help them get through the shift" but would never make a big deal of it - he was just genuinely an awesome kind person.
    And even though he shortly after my residency moved across the country - running into him again at a conference was like no time had passed. He still seemed to have a great handle on work/life balance.

    He is someone i think of almost every day that i am at work - his impact has been enormous.

  7. I was a first year at P&S when Dr. Miller passed. I remember very well the announcement after first year morning lectures. I only barely knew him - having gone to a meeting he held for the peds interest group (or something like that) a few weeks earlier. He seemed like a remarkable man.

  8. Anonymous7:34 AM

    My paeds reg when I was on elective. She works ultra hard morning, night, midnight and she does it NOT because she has to (well, I am sure she has to) but she does care about every single one of her patients...

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  10. I can't say any doctor I've worked with on the wards has had this effect on me. I had some great mentors prior to med school, and I keep waiting and hoping I'll find one here that I see the way you see your mentors, but so far, nada. Like anon said above, I'm just happy when they know my name. That's a pretty pathetically low bar if you ask me.

  11. I was fortunate enough to work with Fitz-James as a college student. she treated us like she did her residents - always demanding professionalism, perfection, and focus AT ALL TIMES!!

  12. I pre-ordered your book on Amazon yesterday! I am very excited to read it! It comes out on my sweet daughter's birthday too! Very exciting! Good luck -hope your sales are amazing.

  13. Dr. Miller passed away a couple of months before my 3rd year peds rotation, but I will always remember the talk he gave us for our transition to 3rd year. Even little things can mean success (like finding the bathroom the first day of a new rotation). Never lie. Don't push K+. And put your feet in the Carribean as often as possible (a little nugget of advice he has received from a patient).

    Dr. Fitz-James - her high expectations made every single one of us better. She could be intimidating to work with, but I knew every day I would learn and become better at everything - of taking care of our co-workers (I once saw her escort a resident from another department to our lounge for breakfast after she nearly fainted), our selves (bend your knees and save your back during laryngoscopy), and most importantly our patients. Know your patient, know their disease, and do everything the right way every time.

  14. Stephanie1:07 PM

    Wow! I've been a silent observer/fan of this blog and didn't think I'd ever have any reason to post. I came across Dr. Fitz-James during my Anesthesia rotation as an MS3 last year, and your description of her is spot on! I was completely terrified of her, but boy, did I learn.