Don't call this physician a saint

Jim O'Connell, MD, prefers you treat him like a regular person. That's how he treats his patients, after all.

Thirty years ago, the Harvard Medical School graduate co-founded the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. He started off promising himself he'd care for the homeless full-time for one year before transitioning into oncology, but turns out promises to oneself are the easiest to break. At 67, he's still seeing patients on the street, which he worries are growing meaner.

Boston Globe columnist Thomas Farragher calls Dr. O'Connell "the city's legendary physician to the faceless." It's a well-earned title, but one that likely made his subject blush upon reading. Although many people paint him as saintly, Dr. O'Connell doesn't particularly enjoy canonization.

"I am aware of the things that are broken and that I've screwed up and the people I've hurt and all of that," he told Mr. Farragher. "So when I hear saint, I want to say: Not on your life!"

In the column — a read well worth any healthcare professional's time — Dr. O'Connell explains one of the reasons he feels blessed to care for Boston's homeless: He has the time to give.

"If you don't take time it's not going to work. But time is the one thing not given to us in the usual medical world," he says. "If I were back in the regular clinic, I'd have to be seeing people every 10 to 15 minutes and crank though it. That would fail in our world."

The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program now serves more than 12,000 homeless individuals each year in two hospital-based clinics — Boston Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital — and in more than 70 shelters and outreach sites in the city.

Dr. O'Connell's first book, Stories from the Shadows, is a collection of accounts of his homeless patients and their stories. You can find more information about it here.

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