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From a TV series, a physician offers a vision of “what makes us caregivers”

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2011 - Spring


The fictional physician and title character in the television seriesHouse is no one’s idea of a role model. “He’s arrogant, a drug addict, a jerk, and an SOB,” said Lisa Sanders, M.D. ’97, HS ’01, during her Commencement address to the 31 graduates of the Physician Associate Program in December. And she should know. Sanders, an assistant clinical professor of medicine, is a consultant to the show, which was inspired in part by her “Diagnosis” column for The New York Times Magazine. Yet despite this description of Gregory House, she said, “People come up to me and say, ‘I wish my doctor was Dr. House.’ ”

The appeal of House, said Sanders, may be that although he hates patients, he loves diagnoses and wrestles with symptoms until he can make sense of them. House, she said, “embodies a willingness to get into the problem and fix the problem.”

Sanders went on to describe a resident at Waterbury Hospital who reflected that persistence as she took on a patient whose case had perplexed other physicians for a year. The patient’s frequent nausea and vomiting had forced her to drop out of the University of Connecticut. A half-dozen visits to the hospital and a full workup had yielded no insights into the problem. The resident found no obvious causes: the student was otherwise healthy, smoked and drank only occasionally, and was not pregnant. Only extremely hot showers relieved her symptoms. Finally, after countless searches through the literature, the resident turned to “Dr. Google.”

Her Web search—she Googled nausea, vomiting, and hot showers—unearthed the diagnosis. The patient was suffering from cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, a clinical condition linked to long-term marijuana use. The resident, Sanders said, succeeded where other physicians had failed because of her “willingness to become fully engaged with the problem, to take it on as a problem, to own it, to really figure it out.”

“This commitment we make to our patients—to take on their problems—this is what makes us caregivers,” Sanders said.

After Sanders’ talk, Mary Warner, PA, M.M.Sc., director of the Physician Associate Program, and Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, presented diplomas to the graduates on the stage of Woolsey Hall.

Three students received awards for exceptional performance: Matthew Brogan, PA-C ’10, received the Dean’s Academic Award; Heather Dobbin, PA-C’10, received the Dean’s Clinical Award; and Megan Duet, PA-C ’10, received the Dean’s Humanitarian Award for outstanding service to others.

The Didactic Instruction Award, for dedication and excellence in the classroom, was given to John S. Francis, M.D., assistant professor of medicine. The Clinical Instruction Award, for exemplary teaching at a clinical rotation site, went to Hartford Family Medicine Center. The Jack Cole Society Award, for contributions in support of the physician associate profession, was given to Rita A. Rienzo, PA, M.M.Sc., assistant professor of medicine.

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