From Medford to Portland, stories of compassionate care

Doug Koekkoek, M.D.
Chief medical officer
Providence Health & Services, Oregon Region

March 20, 2013

On the surface, this seems unremarkable: A New York emergency physician  writes a sympathy letter to the husband of a  patient who died of breast cancer. Yet the handwritten message has become a viral sensation, viewed by more than 2 million people and inspiring countless online comments and a report on “CBS This Morning.”

So why did this small gesture of compassion draw such a response? The answer may be found from the patient’s son, who first posted the letter on Reddit with the title, “This letter from my late mother’s doctor has changed my life.”

It’s easy to become distracted and overburdened by our daily responsibilities, but sometimes it takes a vulnerable patient or a distraught family member to remind us of the power of compassion. This was certainly true for the doctor who wrote that letter, and it’s true for most of us who work in Providence hospitals.

Our patients know when we care, and they tell us in surveys. One emergency patient in Milwaukie was grateful for Dr. Jason Sundseth’s soothing manner. “Being calmed down and [having] my fears reassured was the best possible medication,” the patient wrote. Another left Newberg not only happy, but awed. “Dr. Jennifer Wilson took my breath away [with her] honesty and insight.”

Dr. Richard Urbanski in Medford set an anxious parent’s mind at ease. “He clearly cared about the amount of pain my daughter was in,” the parent wrote. “He did everything he could to make her as comfortable as possible.”

One Seaside ED patient was touched when Dr. Cosmina Popa pulled up a chair to talk; another in Hood River liked Dr. Philip Chadwick’s sense of humor.

Some physicians earn such consistently high praise from patients that they deserve special mention. A few issues ago, Pulse profiled Newberg ED’s Dr. Jeff Disney on his approach to patient care. There are many others like him:

  • Dr. Timothy Opie in Seaside is “an amazing doctor,” one patient says. “Very kind. He even called me personally for a follow-up two days later.”

  • In Hood River, Dr. John Garcia is lauded for his “character and dedication.”

  • A patient of Dr. Tamara Stewart’s in southern Oregon appreciated her taking the time to answer questions, even when “I asked them several times.”

  • Milwaukie’s Dr. Scott Browning is “excellent at making you feel at ease about the procedure.”

  • At PPMC, Dr. Oscar Polo is lauded for being “skilled, professional and courteous,” and Dr. Steven Hoff has been called “fantastic,” “wonderful” and “the best” – a physician who goes “beyond the call of duty.”

  • Dr. Lisa Huddleston in Seaside impresses her patients by calling them at home to check on their progress.

  • At Willamette Falls, Dr. Sean Stone gets comments like this one: “Dr. Stone is an excellent human being.”

  • Dr. Paul Duwelius at PSVMC “cared for [our son] like his own family member.”

To us, these small acts of caring may seem so insignificant that we forget about them the minute we leave the room. But like the family that posted that condolence letter, our patients and their loved ones will have lasting memories of their care. And sometimes, that care can change their lives in ways we may never expect.