Many years ago, I brought my new stethoscope up to Community Hospital and the Family Practice Center across the street on Chanate, and spent three wonderful, intense years starting to learn to be a family doctor. And began building relationships with people who came to call me their physician, and with people who came to call me their colleague or co-worker. Or friend.
I then took my stethoscope down to Rohnert Park and continued to learn to be a family doctor. A few of my patients came with me from Chanate. I spent a lot of years there, and the relationships kept building. Some families with four generations who called me their “Doctor Bo.” Many hundreds who remember me as the one who delivered their babies. Others who I will always remember as they went through the end of their life on this earth, and we made that journey together. A lot of visits, in the office, in the hospital, in the nursing home. A lot of relationships that have brought a richness to the fabric of my life that I will always treasure and be grateful for.
I have gone to more than a few funerals of my patients, and what an amazing experience that has been. It always reminds me that the folks who come to see us are not patients; they are people, who have lives that we too often know little about. I always walk away wishing I could have learned more about that person at the beginning, when I started as their family doc.
And of course, none of us do this work alone. So the relationships with people I have worked with continued to grow and deepen. I was soon joined by some other wonderful family physicians and wonderful medical assistants, and office managers, and receptionists, and others.
Through my entire career, there has been the never-ending roll of change. What a great time to be a family physician, and try to shape that change so things work better for our patients and our community! I am so grateful that I have been given so many chances to do just that. Family medicine has been, for me, the ideal vehicle to try to make health care better. To make a difference. As a family physician, pushing within every organization I’ve worked in for better efficiency, better quality, more justice in our community and more joy in our work. In my medical society, California Academy of Family Physicians, joining with family physicians from across the state to push for all those same things. In our community, getting the chance to work in Health Action, and learn so much about what we need to do to really improve the health of everyone in Sonoma County, and then to actually work together with others to start getting it done! What a rich career I have enjoyed.
And then, five-and-a-half years ago, it got even better! I brought my stethoscope back up the hill to Chanate, and got the chance to join the Santa Rosa Community Health Centers. And I continued learning how to be a family physician.
Three months later we moved to our beautiful Vista Family Health Center. We have more than doubled in size and in the number of people who look to us for high quality primary care. The roll of change continues, faster than ever it seems, and yet somehow we have kept rolling along, being there for our patients and for each other.
Last night, I brought my stethoscope home. It is a lot older than when we started this journey. As am I.
I leave you with a few thoughts. You can take them or leave them of course, but I hope you’ll at least think about them.
- Be proud. Every little task we each do is like a small stream, that joins with everyone else’s little tasks, into a mighty river of great care for our patients and community. Your work makes a difference. A big difference.
- Be gentle with each other. The work is hard. We need to change and improve, but change is hard and slow, and it is easy to get frustrated. But you all are in this together. Gentleness and generosity of spirit builds teams. And teams lead to more joy.
- Be gentle with patients. Change is even harder for many of our patients, who often are struggling to just survive, or with demons from past trauma. We often feel powerless because we cannot fix many of these challenges, but just being there and gently supporting the person matters more than you realize.
- Be curious. Try beginning a visit by asking, “What matters to you?” Follow the thread to get a deeper understanding of the patient as a person. It will help you build a partnership framed around what matters to them, and without that it is hard to really improve health.
Bo Greaves, MD is a retiring family physician based in Santa Rosa California. He is a long-time, active member of the California Academy of Family Physicians.