Monday, May 12, 2008

Blog Rounds: Mentor / Tormentor

“There were teachers, and there were mentors. We all knew there was a difference. Whether it was your basic medical science lab professor or it was the department chairman, we had our favorites.

On the other hand, there were those who loved to torture us. Why do they create greater impact? Deeper wounds, maybe? Or do they really?

The theme is your favorite mentor and/or tormentor during medical school and training. They may be the same person, or not. You may have several favorites. Most importantly, share your experiences with these people, and the reason why they have created an impact on you as a doctor and as a person.”

One person stands out for me. See, medical school and residency hardly even count. Much like practice and play before the real business of treating patients, committing mistakes, breaking the news of an unexpected death of a close friend and patient to a distraught family who will never understand, getting slapped with lawsuits, having to be available every hour of the day, every day of the week and spending many sleepless nights wondering if any patients will show the following morning to pay for the nurse, the receptionist, the rent, the utilities, the insurance premiums, the medical supplies, the equipment lease.

There is no practice involved in private medical practice. It is a painstaking process that requires total commitment and focus. Required anatomic equipment include nerves of steel and a cast-iron stomach. Rewards may be great but certainly no country for the faint of heart.

I was a newly-minted gastroenterologist who had to work in a medically underserved area in the Oklahoma panhandle, population of 10,000. He was a blue eyed surgeon who spoke impeccable Spanish because his father was from Puerto Rico. Even if his expertise was in laparoscopic procedures, he saw them all and did them all. He delivered babies, took care of neonates, set fractures, removed cerumen and excised ingrown toenails, circumcised, took x rays, met patients with migraine headaches at the clinic at midnight and gave them shots of nubain and promethazine. His patients loved him.

He owned two planes, one of which, the Cheyenne picked me up in Dallas for that fateful interview. His well appointed home was perched atop a cliff, his wife was strongly protective, ever-resentful of the little amount of time her husband had for his family on account of his vigorous work ethic.

He had a way with patients, he made them feel as if he spent an inordinate time with each of them even if he would get to see close to a hundred patients in a day. Naturally, others got envious. He was accused of being too aggressive, performing unnecessary procedures and downright unethical behavior. Even then, working closely with him, I found all those charges baseless. I tried hard to get him back to the local hospital where he had been barred from practicing. I drew the ire of many of the old white guard here especially since I was a young, foreign upstart but it did not matter. Here was an injustice that needed to be corrected.

After close to 10 years, he was able to perform an operation at the Guymon hospital. The clinic was doing very well, I was working seven days a week and would never complain if there was an endoscopy that needed to be done in the evenings because my salary was based upon my productivity. I don’t remember taking a day off in 2 years.

We found a discrepancy in how the collections were being tallied. The irony is, I never really got to talk to him because he became strangely defensive and hired lawyers to placate me. One of them became the head of FEMA and the other lawyer came from the firm of the Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma.

I was eventually sued for libel for a million dollars and I had to counter-sue and he ended up being ordered by the court to pay me a large amount of money, not a single cent I would get to see because he filed for bankruptcy and he left town.

Talk about pure torment--but to this day, I am grateful to him. He showed me the ingredients of a successful medical practice: availability, compassion and competent medical care.

I continue to hope that I can one day coax him out of his self-imposed exile and return to the tiny town in the panhandle where your best dreams come true.


Megamom said...

What an experience that must have been, Martin! That which does not cause your demise can only make you stronger.
Thank you for sharing this experience. You're right, sometimes our best mentors or worst tormentors are outside of school. Nothing they taught us could possibly have prepared you for this.

azron said...

Amazing story!!!

I am sorry you never got the money -

I am sure everyday you help patients with the expertise learned from this man.

take care


Got meloinks? said...

I couldn't agree more. Thanks for the story

Paul said...


You're so full of it. You should open your own biodeisel plant. LOL!


Anonymous said...

TBR-9 Roundup is up. Thanks for participating!

Joey said...

"There is no practice involved in private medical practice. It is a painstaking process that requires total commitment and focus." I agree! And good that you found someone who taught you about a good practice! It's unfortunate about how you guys ended your relationship, but sometimes things like these happen.

I'd like to invite you to participate in TBR10. I'll be hosting. Theme is "The Doctor's Family". Call of articles here.

pian said...

Thanks for sharing this! It only shows you're ready for anything. Good for you!