Doctor X, Humane Medicine Mentor

When I was an adolescent I spent my summers working on the staff of a local Boy Scout camp. The camp had been converted from an old farm, and many of the original structures had been refurbished. One bay of the barn functioned as a hands-on classroom. Here boys could practice newly acquired skills like basket weaving, wood carving and leather tooling. Overhead a heavy wooden board bore the words: “He who gets ten men to work is greater than he who does the work of ten men.”

This made little sense to me at the time. When you’re a sixteen year old boy, nothing beats testosterone. The older boys I looked up to were strong, agile and fast; and more than anything, I wanted to be like them.

Perspectives change when you get older, as you mature. Now I’m in my fifties, and that proverb makes perfect sense.

Last night, while thousands of thoughts swirled through my mind after our recent weekend Cell2Soul conference in the Berkshires, I read through a conference handout of selections written by undergraduate and medical students in response to the question: “What has Doctor X meant to you as a mentor, colleague and friend?” (Doctor X is the founding editor of Cell2Soul as well as a practicing dermatologist.)

Responses were overwhelmingly positive. “He listened to me, took the time to get to know me. He helped me believe in myself, told me that he was sure I could accomplish something if I had the will to do it. He suggested that I get involved with a project— journey to another country to learn how folks in other cultures solved problems, dealt with issues, survived.”

At Doctor X’s suggestion, one former student arranged housing for a guest speaker, and spent the evening talking with Patch Adams, M.D. The same student, again at Doctor X’s request, picked up another guest speaker at the airport and accompanied him to the Clark Art Institute, where the student spent several hours listening to Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to break the four-minute mile mark, comment on the paintings and the artists who created them.

Dr. X recommended to another young intern that she spend the summer at a camp for children severely disabled from chronic dermatological disease. The insight she gained continues to affect the way she treats patients in her medical practice.

Over the past two decades Dr. X has sponsored numerous conferences on humane medicine and the medical humanities, where folks from all walks of life come together to learn from one another in a communal setting. I have been amazed at the variety of individuals who attend these affairs—holistic healers, musicians, artists, sculptors, photographers, actors, vocalists, writers, patients, family members, students, psychologists, counselors … and physicians.

The venues for these gatherings provide a relaxing ambiance conducive to interactive learning. Conferences have been held on the islands of Kauai and Cuba, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and Williams College and the Mason Hill retreat center in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

According to the physician and Jewish sage Maimonides, the highest level of giving is when the giver provides support to enable the recipient to become self-supporting.

And testosterone aside, he who gets ten men to work is greater than he who does the work of ten men.

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