The Gift Of Generosity With Poor Patients
Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.
— Matthew 25: 31-46
Don’t worry, readers. I have not gone over the deep end with religion but this verse has echoed in my head ever since I took the Hippocratic oath and left Cleveland with a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine diploma.
Every patient who came to my office, without regard to his or her ability to pay, got the best foot and ankle care I could deliver for 34 years. The young doctors who took over my practice have continued this philosophy of care.
There were times when I needed consultation for one of my less fortunate patients from another specialist. It was then that I learned that not all physicians shared my philosophy. It was almost a pleasure to beat the crap out of these guys with my little used Bible. It was especially fun if the doctor was known to be religious.
One prominent group of surgeons who were all very devout Christians declined to see a lady because she had an outstanding overdue balance in their clinic. I called and asked to speak with the office manager. I admitted that I was confused by all the religious literature in their office and the articles in the paper about their doctor’s mission trips. I explained that in light of what they claimed to be, I expected they would welcome the opportunity to care for my patient.
The manager explained their office’s financial policy and why they had to decline care for this woman. She also let me know she was offended by my comments about their faith.
I knew I had her by the jugular vein at this point and popped the question, “Ma’am, if Jesus was the office manager, would he have sent the patient away?”
Her reply was, “Well, I never …” I hung the phone up rather than listen to her rant.
About 30 minutes later, Ralph, the medical director of the group, called and said, “John, we have rethought our financial policies and would welcome your patient for care.” There was a moment of silence.
I then said, “Ralph, does it bother you when an old heathen asks, ‘What would Jesus do?’”
Ralph chuckled and said, “John, we have suspected that you are a closet Christian.” I thanked him and called the patient to tell her to go back. They have seen the light.
I have missed this part of practice. It was a pleasure to care for the poor. They were grateful and made my life as a doctor more meaningful. They rarely barked that they wanted a second opinion. Oftentimes, they were simply in transition and when they found work and had insurance, they remained loyal patients with added gratitude for the times I helped them when things were rough.
A free clinic opened in my community last month. The group who started it are all very dedicated physicians and nurses who also happen to be Christians. They knew of my reputation for bating specialists into doing the right thing and asked if I could help arrange referrals with specialists who would treat their patients at no charge.
I love this kind of challenge and expected to have to dust off my old Bible to at least scare the hell out of them if they refused to see patients from the free clinic. It was a thrill that I did not have to resort to religious chicanery. I got agreements from general surgeons, orthopedists, podiatrists, cardiologists, urologists, gastroenterologists and a few other specialties. So far, none have declined. It has been the high point of my retirement.
There is a way for all podiatrists to enjoy this opportunity to give needed care to the less fortunate, even if you are not religious. I figure it pays to hedge your bets in case there is a hereafter.
Figure out how much time you can spare in your practice to accommodate referrals from a free clinic. Let the clinic know of your willingness to help and agree that with a written referral from the clinic, you will see the patient at no charge. That works better than sitting in a free clinic all night waiting for foot issues.
There is a fear among some doctors that the poor are more demanding and litigious. I have not found this to be so. No matter how our country’s healthcare fiasco turns out, you will feel better about yourself as a physician and as a human being by being generous.
Dr. McCord retired in December 2008 from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.