Saying Goodbye to Our Pediatrician

A parent whose children had outgrown my practice wrote me the following letter. What did I do for this parent and her family?

I offered the following: the time that she and her children needed now, not later, when problems become more difficult to address; a genuine curiosity for how she, her husband, and their children became whom they are; an appreciation and respect for what they were able to teach me, their children’s pediatrician; a sense of trust, for me, their doctor, that came with caring about them as total human beings; and, finally, a recognition that she and her husband, if relieved of past burdens, could be encouraged to make a significant difference in the lives of others.

I share this letter because I believe it reflects upon what most physicians might be able to achieve in their practice, if they took the time to do so. Dr. Howard King

Dear Dr. King,

Parting with you is more emotional than I had expected … But I wish it didn’t mean saying good-bye to you.

The poignancy is in many ways about me rather than them. You’ve had an enormous impact on my life, even though, as Susan remarked, we’ve only seen you for total of some dozen hours over sixteen years …

Its uncanny to me how effective you are at getting to the roots of ones innermost feelings while appearing to be in some ways so remote yourself – thoughtful and respectful (gently apologizing to babies for shots), but always self-contained, removed, professional.

At first I felt at sea, wanting and expecting more direct guidance from you, and it took me years to understand that you were instructing me as much by what you didnt provide as what you did. Like a Zen master, in the most subtle and indirect way, you made me take responsibility for my own parenting and the health of my family, you honed my judgment, you taught me to think about my emotional landscape in the broadest way.

… I didnt learn about the nature of your work and achievements until years later. I wasnt inquiring that way and you didnt promote yourself. But I did know that there was a feeling of great security writing your name on the school forms that anticipated the spectre of injury or illness. And it was larger than the security of knowing that trained help was a phone call away.

Ive discovered that youre very well known, and your colleagues invariably remark on how “caring” you are. Ive thought about that word, and even though its overused and has lost some of its meaning on account of that, its actually just right. You care about the implications of all that you say and do, and all that you say and do is concerned with the well being of others. Caring is the highest value there is.

… How grateful I am for the good fortune of having had you in our lives …

Sincerely, Mrs. S.

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I would like to thank the following for their generous support, without whom this web site and training program would not exist: The Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Foundation, The Alden Trust, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, Project INTERFACE (Newton Public Schools and the U.S. Department of Education), the Locke Educational Fund at Newton- Wellesley Hospital, Aetna Health Plan, the Kenneth B. Schwartz Center,  and the families of my medical practice. 

I hope you find this site useful and encourage any comments.

- Dr. Howard King, M.D.