Sunday, October 11, 2009

The post where I gush about Pauline Chen

I had the recent opportunity to listen to physician-writer and fellow mother in medicine, Pauline Chen, speak at a university function. I had read some of her columns in The New York Times (she has a weekly column, "Doctor and Patient"), and I've always been impressed by how honestly and thoughtfully she writes. Her book, Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality, is a New York Times bestseller.

My colleague had helped to arrange her visit, and when I arrived to the building, I ran into him into the hallway. He introduced me to her before the talk and I got the chance to speak with her for a few minutes. What struck me about her was how she makes you feel like the most important person in the room when she talks to you. She is sincere, engaged, kind and so warm, she casts a glow. I felt gleeful to be able to connect with her, even for a short while. I even mentioned Mothers in Medicine and what we write about here.

Her talk was fabulous. The entire auditorium was captivated and hung onto her every word. She shared a couple of patient stories that were so exquisitely written and told, I had shivers. Her message was all about compassionate care, especially compassionate care at the end of life. She shared regrets and interactions she wished happened differently, but mostly, it was about hope for being the best physicians we could be. There have only been a couple times where I've listened to physicians speak and thought to myself: I would want to be her patient. Her patients are so lucky. I thought this about Pauline. (The other was Rita Charon from Columbia University. That woman rocks.)

I left the talk feeling inspired. Inspired to write and inspired to keep striving to be the best physician, the best listener, the best patient advocate that I could be. I thought about all the family meetings I've been involved in recently - the ones where we have to break cancer diagnoses and sometimes discuss options for palliative care - about helping patients and families through the stress of chronic or end-stage illness, and feeling at least thankful to be the one to help them through this. Emotionally taxing on me, yes. But if I can make an unthinkable situation a little bit better, to be the voice of compassion and comfort, then it is all worth it. It makes a difference.

Pauline, thank you for doing what you do. Thank you for inspiring each of us sitting in that auditorium to be our best selves.


  1. SHUDDER!!!!

    I can't stand that woman. She comes off to me as patronizing, holier than thou, passive aggressive.... Yuck! I heard her speak on NPR once and her responses -- which in no way addressed the questions she was asked -- were so saccharine.

    I hate her.

    I guess now I know who her market is.

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  4. Anonymous, I think this might be a case of "If you don't have something nice to say..."

    KC, one of the things I have most enjoyed about this group blog is the overwhelmingly supportive, intelligent, positive, and thoughtful nature of the comments. Unfortunate posts by "Anonymous" to the last few pieces appear intended to make this yet another site for faceless people to bicker online. Well, guess what, Anonymous, these fish aren't biting.

    I am all for lively disagreement. If you don't like Pauline Chen's writing or she came across as patronizing on NPR, fine. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to comment to that effect. But mean-spirited comments clearly intended to disparage and stereotype our writers ("I guess now I know who her market is", "You doctors are all the same") are sophomoric, irrelevant, and frankly just unwelcome here. So KC, you have my full support for deleting such comments in their entirety. And you have no obligation to explain yourself whatsoever.

    Thanks to all of the thoughtful and articulate readers who make writing here such a pleasure. Long live civility.

  5. You really just want civility?

    I actually quite enjoyed the lively debate that Fizzy's post generated a few days back, even if some of the posters were anonymous and maybe a tad hostile. It was one of the more thought provoking pieces I've read on a blog for a while. I sincerely hope Fizzy continues to post, since she always says something that makes me think, even if I don't always agree 100%.

    I'm not such a fan of Pauline Chen, myself, for a lot of the reasons stated by anonymous. Glad KC enjoyed her talk though.

  6. I don't know Pauline Chen, and I read this forum because of the support that people extend to one another. But I think it surely must be ok to disagree about a writer? After all, it's a forum, not the politburo. But you can disagree in a civil way! There is a difference between disagreeing with someone and slamming them. And I think it's ok to delete posts if they get derogatory. I also enjoyed the debate about Fizzy's post...

  7. Wow, she sounds inspirational. I love it when people are so passionate about something it elevates those around them to become better people too. I will look for opportunities to hear Dr. Chen speak.

  8. I liked Fizzy's post too. It's a shame that she closed the comments though.


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