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Stories of Inspiration: The Gift of Patient Trust

Posted Oct 27 2010 7:03am

Jo Shapiro, MD is chief of the division of head and neck surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital, an associate professor at Harvard and a well-known expert on peer support, medical disclosure and apology. But ask her about her patients, and she is decidedly non-clinical.

"I truly love my patients," said Jo. "This is an intense word, and I do not use it lightly. My feelings include respect, shared purpose, mutual learning and trust. We share laughter, tears, uncertainties, triumphs and sadness."

Jo does not take her patients' faith in her lightly. She is very aware that they entrust her with much - including the most vulnerable parts of their of bodies. "The fact that my patients share with me their most intimate hopes and fears and that they trust me enough to let me literally incise their or their loved one's neck or throat is certainly one of the most miraculous and wonderful gifts of my profession," she said.

One colleague, whose husband was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer by another doctor, forwarded the terrifying pathology report to Jo. "Dr. Shapiro read the report herself, consulted with other colleagues and that weekend arrived at our house unannounced to discuss what she had learned," said the colleague. She offered hope by providing a more balanced view of the possible outcomes. More importantly, she intuitively sensed our anxiety and helped contain it by her remarkable combination of compassionate understanding and sophisticated medical knowledge."

A couple of years ago, Jo was named the director of the newly created Center for Professionalism and Peer Support at Brigham and Women's, a program aimed at enhancing the culture among clinicians with the goal of improving patient care. "The underlying principle is that we want Brigham and Women's Hospital to deliver the most compassionate care to our patients, said Jo.

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