Jonathan Harvey

Jonathan Harvey

As March 30 was National Doctors’ Day, I want to express my appreciation for the great work our Martin’s Point Health Care providers do serving our patients and communities. The more I come to understand our work together, the more I come back to some very basic human values that are time-honored in our profession: building longterm, trusting relationships with our patients and colleagues in a way that allows us to improve the health of our communities.

A friend of mine died suddenly several weeks ago at the age of 58. He had hypertension, hyperlipidemia and pre-diabetes. I know that he saw his doctor periodically, was on medication and monitored, but I don’t know the details of his engagement, compliance or risk factor modification. We were quite close, and he would visit Maine and stay with us each summer. He worked extremely hard, had a wonderful sense of humor and was unselfish and completely unpretentious — qualities I admire greatly.

After receiving the horrific news, I went to the office to see patients for a few hours.

My very first patient that day was a 50-year-old male with hypertension, hyperlipidemia and pre-diabetes. It was not an unusual day, except today the power of my work was hitting me full force. I held back tears.

The more I read and understand about encouraging behavioral change and health improvement in my patients, the better I understand the meaning of the word “engagement.”

What is engagement? It is about active listening, motivational interviewing, coaching, basic relational skills and trust building. The best physicians are able to tap into an emotional aspect of caring in order to motivate change.

Robert Coles, MD, a famous child psychiatrist I greatly admire, calls this quality in children “moral intelligence.” Coles suggests that moral intelligence is revealed in storytelling, and shared a story of an 8-year-old girl he interviewed at a hospital bedside who had lost her right arm in a tragic farming accident.

She was a baseball player, and her deepest sense of loss was the sadness that she felt not for herself, but for her father. He was her baseball coach, and she worried more about him and his remorse.

I am convinced that most of us in medicine share a deep sense of satisfaction in our work because we have moral intelligence — we care deeply and sincerely about the well being of others, and rejoice in their stories. In any given day, our patients will humor us, aggravate us, challenge us, question us, hold back from us or completely open up to us — but we ultimately accept them for who they are.

We sit and we listen to their stories. We come to terms with our own frailty by understanding the frailty of others. This experience ultimately reflects human vulnerability. This vulnerability leads to human connectedness and can drive passion for our work.

Even more important to me is the leadership role that doctors play in modeling the work of moral intelligence. As we demonstrate our conviction and discipline to serve our patients, others follow and experience the same sense of commitment and courage in their work. This work then perpetuates itself-we find meaning in our work together as we serve the greater need and vulnerability of our patients.

So, in honor of National Doctors’ Day, I want to thank all health care providers for who you are: true healers and leaders in our profession.

JONATHAN HARVEY, MD, is chief medical officer for Martin’s Point Health Care, with facilities in Brunswick.

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