There is a story that I like to repeat to patients about an interview I once read in a medical journal. The interviewee was one of America’s most well- respected lymphoma experts who is considered a leader in the field; this gentleman is actually responsible for having developed many of the treatments we use today as a standard of care for this cancer.
Whenever he meets a new patient (who is typically well aware of his global reputation as being a “giant” in the field), at some point he says to the patient something similar to the following: “One of the first things you need to understand if I am going to be your doctor is that there is one boss in this room right now; one person who every word they say is vitally important. You need to have a very clear understanding of this and agree to it if you want me to be your doctor.”
After a few minutes of silence, he asks the patient, “Do you understand what I’m saying?”
This physician is still amazed every time the patient gets the answer incorrect and thinks he is talking about himself- he always continues: “Understand this- I’m talking about you. You are the boss in the room, the person who is important. Every word you tell me is vitally important to me. When you are in this room with me, you are literally the most important person in the world. My reason for being in practice, my reason for existing is to be here for you and help you. That is how you should always feel, and if that ever is not the case, you need to immediately correct me.”
Although I’ve paraphrased a little, I love this story. It expresses one of the most important concepts of how I wish to practice medicine. No matter the importance of the physician, his/ her accomplishments, ago, sense of self worth, career, or goals, the patient is still more important. The very purpose of a physician’s existence is to help; to heal; to improve symptoms; to enhance health.
I repeat this story all the time, because it expresses exactly how I feel. Whether understanding the goals and role of research, deciding on treatment choices, making referrals, pursuing clinical trials, or prioritizing one’s time in the office, the patient is the most important person in the world.