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Abraham Verghese at Work: A New York Times profile

A Verghese.jpg

UPDATE – 10:30 AM: The profile is currently the most e-mailed story on the Times’ website.


Stanford’s Abraham Verghese, MD, is featured as a “Scientist at Work” in today’s New York Times. In the profile, writer Denise Grady discusses Verghese’s dual career as author and physician (both which require an “infinite curiosity about other people”), his path getting there (“You were a doctor, engineer, lawyer or a failure,” he said of the high expectations put on him by his family), and his mission to restore the “lost art” of the clinical exam:

He is out to save the physical exam because it seems to be wasting away, he says, in an era of CT, ultrasound, M.R.I., countless lab tests and doctor visits that whip by like speed dates…

Stanford recruited him in 2007, in large part because of his enthusiasm for teaching the exam. He seized the bully pulpit.

Much has been written about Verghese, but I found Grady’s account of Verghese’s work during the early days of the AIDS epidemic – a time described in his first book, My Own Country – particularly moving:

He came to know many of his patients and their families. He visited their homes, attended their deaths and their funerals. One patient, near death, awoke when Dr. Verghese arrived, and opened his shirt to be examined one last time.

“It was like an offering,” Dr. Verghese said, with tears in his eyes. “To preside over the bed of a dying man in his last few hours. I listen, I thump, I don’t even know what I’m listening for. But doing it says: ‘I will never leave you. I will not let you die in pain or alone.’ There’s not a test you can offer that does that.”

Previously: Exploring the “fading art” of the physical exam, PBS NewsHour profiles Stanford’s Abraham Verghese, Hands on: Abraham Verghese teaches bedside skills and Physician-writer Abraham Verghese featured on NPR
Photo by Steve Fisch

2 Responses to “ Abraham Verghese at Work: A New York Times profile ”

  1. Esther Buddenhagen Says:

    Abraham Verghese is a hero of mine, as I am sure he is of many others. Having read his first two books when we lived in San Antonio, TX, I was thrilled when he was hired to organize a humanities program at the UTSA Health Science Center and even more thrilled to hear him speak there in person. He seems a lonely but very articulate advocate for caring and careful medical care these days in the US. Much to my surprise, we found the kind of care he advocates here in Mexico, and contrary to some opinions in the US, a hands-on physician offers a lot more than simply a bridge to trust between doctor and patient. Indeed, it offers a way to avoid unnecessary expensive tests, though I absolutely hate that in the US care in terms of cost on the one hand, and machinery used over everything else on the other, seem to be the measures most often used in the US.
    We live in the state of Veracruz near the capital of the state, Xalapa. There are very few non-Mexicans in this area. When our family knew we were moving here, they had a lot of concern about the kind of medical care we would receive. My son even suggested we buy the kind of insurance which would pay for helicopter evacuation for serious medical issues. Though we didn’t tell them, my husband and I shared the kids’ concerns.
    Much to our surprise, we found not simply excellent care available at a considerably lower rate than in the US even if one uses private physicians (there is a good state program which friends use readily and happily, but we are now spoiled. We will use the state program if we need hospitalization). Possibly for the same reasons in Verghese’s background, that all the scans and tests are so expensive, we have not yet had, for instance, a CAT scan. Mexico and our corner of Mexico has all the fancy stuff, but we haven’t yet had use for it.
    Instead, our physician schedules appointments for an hour. He doesn’t always use the whole hour, but often he does, and in some cases he uses more. Perhaps he could refer us to machines, but his hands discover a great deal, and he learns our bodies so that he can find differences from one appointment to the next. He also sits and questions and listens carefully and looks stuff up right in front of us. It is interesting to see how carefully he chooses lab tests and other kinds of exams. My husband and I and American friends who also see him have changed our minds: from the idea of heading north for treatment, we all would do as much as we could to stay here. My husband and I can only imagine our kids overriding us if we are suffering from dementia and can’t speak.
    I want to be sure you realize this man is not a guru or a cult figure. He is just a doctor. I also go to a gynecologist here and my husband sees a cardiologist and we go to a dentist – actually, more than one. These doctors are excellent as well. And I endured an episode with a food toxin following a meal in a restaurant. This was the first time I got sick eating in a restaurant in several years. I could not stop vomiting and thought I was dying. I ended up in the emergency room. Nothing fancy, but I got what I needed. And the doctors and nurses were very attentive. Because it was covered by the state health insurance program, I ended up paying the hospital about $8.00 and about $60 dollars for medication.
    More important than the price is the expertise, the attentiveness, the warmth of all these medical professionals. Here, nobody appears concerned about not appearing professional by being open and caring and using touch.
    If Dr. Verghese would like to refresh his faith in physicians, he can come here to our area of Mexico to find some comrades who will support him. Doctors here find the US system at the moment pretty strange.

  2. adanech Says:

    What can I say , they have what is important. It is the

    and care that matters most. Technology, surely helps.


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