Mr. R. is 68 years old and has not seen a physician in many years. “I’m old school—I never went to the doctor unless something was wrong.” At his age, he is beginning to see his friends develop various ailments and decided a check-up wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
We start with some general conversation. He is a retired pipe fitter, divorced with two grown children who are not close by. While he is active and has a few friends to spend time with, he does feel lonely at times. I ask him what concerns him most about his health, and he tells me he wants to be sure there is no cancer lurking inside him. He has seen his friends suffer and is afraid.
His medical history is notable only for some chronic pain in his knees and lower back, and physical examination is normal except for borderline elevated blood pressure. I reassure him that he is healthy, and we discuss recommended screening tests, along with adult vaccines he has never received. We plan to have a follow up visit in one month.
Mr. R. looks relieved. I tell him that I admire him for taking the initiative to come in for a visit, and I look forward to being his doctor. He smiles, and looks at me with a hint of surprise. “You mean you will be my doctor?” He asks.
“Of course, I will look forward to seeing you back next month,” I reply.
“Even if I’m not sick?”
“Yes – just to follow up on your tests, and so we can get to know each other better,” I say.
“I always thought that doctors just see whoever is on the schedule – like a clinic.”
I explain to Mr. R. that I will be his personal doctor, and that my partners will help him if I am unavailable. He seems pleasantly surprised, and we say goodbye until next time. As I reflect on this conversation, I think of what I would like to tell a new physician, embarking on a clinical career. “Always remember,” I would say. “That you are not a doctor, you are someone’s doctor, and there is no greater privilege.”