3 CMOs recall the patient they remember most

Like any hospital or health system executive, the day in the life of a CMO is hectic. With all of the big responsibilities these executives have on their plate, sometimes it is the smaller moments that end up becoming most meaningful.

Several hospital and health system CMOs were asked to describe an interaction or two that left them amused, moved or inspired in some way. Here are three of their stories. [Note: Anecdotes have been edited for clarity and style.]

Linda Butler, MD | Vice President of Medical Affairs, CMO and CMIO | Rex Healthcare (Raleigh, N.C.)

One adolescent patient shared with me that she had just won a scholarship. She let me read the essay that she submitted as part of the selection process. It was an exceptionally well-written essay about the person who inspired her to pursue a career in medicine. When I finished reading I asked her if she wrote it about one of my partners, who was well-respected and well-loved by many patients. I knew he had seen her when she was younger. To my surprise, she said that she was writing about me. I was caught off guard because I had only seen her a few times. This was a reminder that we have the ability to influence patients in our brief interactions, and we should use that influence to its fullest potential. 

Another time, I was in an exam room with two young brothers. They happened to ask, "Dr. Butler, how old are you?" Being fairly new, I made the mistake of responding, "Why don't you guess?" One brother guessed 16, which, of course, made me smile. The other brother promptly said 65. I told him his sibling would be getting his lollipop!

Tommy Ibrahim, MD | Chief Physician Officer and Vice President of Medical Affairs | Mercy Medical Center (Des Moines, Iowa)

Certain patients — and certain encounters — truly make you feel alive and inspired. This was true for me in one particular case I so vividly recall, with one particular patient. Interestingly though, this particular patient was not in my direct care. It was happenstance, a random event in a Northern African country that I had been visiting. This particular patient, when she learned that I was an "American doctor" wanted to give me some pearls of wisdom. She had multiple co-morbidities and had been shuffled throughout a broken and practically non-existent healthcare system. Her chronic medical conditions had gone untreated for decades and she had now been bedridden and dialysis dependent. She suffered from visibly open wounds, malnutrition and debility so severe it was hard for her to speak.

 She was from a simple family who loved her very much and did all they possibly could, but relatively impoverished and certainly uninsured, she could not access the physician care she needed. When she did, she was unable to pay for the diagnostic or therapeutic treatments. She lived in very poor conditions, lacking even clean water or air conditioning. Despite all this, this incredible person — having suffered for years — had high and bright spirits. She was humble and thankful for what she had, pointing always to a crucifix above the head of her bed. She was a faithful spirit who gave what little she had, helped others with a kind smile or sage wisdom and was content with her life as it was — full of joy and happiness. Though she was denied some very basic human rights, she wasn't resentful and prayed often for her family and her country.

She knew death would come soon, but she was at peace. We spoke for about 20 minutes. I offered her whatever help or advice I could, reviewed her medications and helped redress her wound. Just before leaving, she grabbed my hand, and with a smiling tear in her eye, looked into mine and said, "Stay kind, always love others, listen, be gentle and humble, and you will be better than you ever thought possible." She hugged me and we parted ways. To this day, I remember this lady and the impact her words had on me. She was not sharing pearls to help me in my practice or to become a better doctor. She was spreading this message to me and others to make us better people.

Halee Fischer-Wright, MD | CMO | St. Anthony North Hospital (Westminster, Colo.)

Each year, members of our executive team round on Christmas Day and distribute cookies and fruit to our associates (employees). We don't just include our associates in our rounding efforts; we also engage and interact with our patients on a very personal level. Being away from family and friends on Christmas, while being very sick, can be difficult and emotional for patients. As a hospital, we demonstrate compassion to our patients during these hard times and spread Christmas cheer through spirited holiday caroling. I was so fortunate to round this past Christmas and it has been one of the most meaningful and rewarding days of my career.

Typically, in my role as a CMO, I'm working with our physicians and clinical staff to solve problems and address patients' medical concerns. However, on Christmas, I handed out 92 ornaments to our patients and connected with them personally. I sat by or on their beds and listened to them tell me about their family, Christmas memories and traditions. In those moments, I was reminded why I continue to serve in my CMO role. They gave me more than they'll ever know. For our hospital, this is our Christmas tradition. It is something that I feel so fortunate to have done and look forward to participating in for many years to come.


If you would like to share a story of an amusing, moving, inspiring or in some other way memorable experience with a patient, email reporter Shannon Barnet at sbarnet@beckershealthcare.com.

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