Why I Really Kiss My Patients

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I started kissing patients in med school. And I haven’t stopped.

During my third-year pediatric rotation, I would stay up late at night in the hospital, holding sick and dying children. I’d lift them from their cribs, kiss them, and sing to them, rocking them back and forth until they fell asleep. One day the head of the department pulled me aside. He told me that I was a doctor when my patients needed a doctor and a mother when they needed a mother.

Twenty years later, I’m still mothering my patients.

I’m a family physician born into a family of physicians. My parents warned me not to pursue medicine. They thought big government would kill America’s small-town neighborhood doctor. But I love being a family doctor. And I love my patients. I hug them and kiss them, and I do house calls. And most patients call me Pamela or sweetie or honey. They all have my home phone number. I’m on call 24/7, but I never feel like I’m working.

I guess I’m never really sure when work ends and play begins. It all feels the same to me. Many of my patients are friends. I do their physicals and go to their homes for dinner.

Doctors are warned to maintain a professional distance from patients. But how can I remain distant when I’m looking deep inside people in places nobody has been before? How can I remain detached when delivering a mother’s first baby, saving a sister’s only brother, or helping a child’s favorite grandfather die?

I’ve been told that maintaining a safe distance from patients will help my objectivity, limit favoritism, maintain clear sexual boundaries, and prevent exploitation. But patients today don’t want professional distance; they want professional closeness with a doctor who has a big heart and a great love for people and service.

And I strive to be that kind of doctor.

I’m the kind of doctor who once hired a patient—a massage therapy student—to work on low-income, high-needs psychiatric clients during their medical appointments. All enjoyed free foot baths and hand rubs. Not one had ever received massage; most had never experienced safe, loving touch in their lives. Now they require less medication.

I’m the kind of doctor who believes in favoritism. I want every patient to feel like they’re my favorite. So I celebrate random “Patient Appreciation Days.” Yes, I shower unsuspecting visitors with dark-chocolate hearts and Mylar smiley-faced balloons as they enter the office. This is in addition to the gifts many receive for meeting their health goals. Sitting on the couch next to her balloon, treats piled high in her lap, a woman bursts out, “This is like going to Grandma’s!”

Kids and adults alike enjoy the unexpected attention and gifts. It’s especially exciting for new patients who choose me from a preferred provider list given to them by their health insurance company. After receiving a door prize and an initial hour-long appointment, one gal exclaims, “I feel like I hit the lottery!”

That’s exactly how I feel being a family doctor. Best. Job. Ever.

Doctoring, like mothering, is a subjective experience. Good doctors are interested, friendly, and intuitive. Patients don’t seem to want objective doctors who are impersonal, unemotional, and strictly business.

Doctors, like mothers, should be emotionally intimate. And they should maintain clear sexual boundaries like any good mother does with her child. Maybe doctors should be more motherly.

A few years ago I visited the foster home where my nephew lived before he moved in with me. I spent the weekend with a dozen teenage boys, all on psychiatric medications. An autistic child had moved into the home that day. At nightfall, he begged me to tuck him into bed. That evening I tucked all 12 boys into bed and kissed them goodnight. When the foster mom found out she said, “You crazy. Them boys hasn’t been kissed in years!”

Maybe some patients don’t need a pill. They need a kiss.

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Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician in Eugene, Oregon. This essay first published in Huffington Post. Photos by Geve.

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19 comments on “Why I Really Kiss My Patients
  1. Larry says:

    God bless you!

  2. Suzanne Strickland says:

    Wonderful story written by a wonderful doctor! My best wishes to you and your family for a joyous, healthy Holiday Season!

  3. Karuna Chapman says:

    Love you dear Pamela. Thanks for being an Angel in our lives. Karuna

  4. Abby Eliezer says:

    I am so proud to be your cousin. You are awe inspiring, and you are the answer to the medical care crisis.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      I guess given your recent visit with your mom’s new doc, you all could have used a few kisses from the folks at the clinic!

  5. Lynn Scoffern says:

    I knew there was a reason why I loved you! Happy Holidays!

  6. Rhea Zakich says:

    Pamela, I love reading about your relationship with your patients. I spend hours listening to people as we play the Ungame. I have the time than many professionals do not have, so I can sit with folks as they ponder and share things that would never be shared on a scheduled visit. Friends can come by anytime and I will listen. When they cry, I cry. When they get angry, I get angry. When they need a hug, I hug them. When they ask me to pray, I pray with them. My part is to be available and present. I see people change right before my eyes when they know they are loved.

  7. Wendy john. Skibb. says:

    Amazing!!

  8. mIke Soto says:

    Hi Pamela I want to wish and your family a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Years..We need more Pamela’s in the medical profession. this would lessen the tension between Doctor and patient..

  9. Daniel Lang says:

    Just want to reiterate that I support the work Pam is doing helping change medicine from the mass production type that reduces people down to numbers, to medicine that brings humanity back into medicine.

  10. Janine Hunt-Jackson says:

    What a delightful post! Thanks for being THIS kind of Dr., Pamela.

  11. Shyla says:

    I’ve got a wonderful doctor, she’s been a friend to me for several years. We need more doctors like that. Meery Christmas Pamela!!!

  12. Pamela, How did you become such a beautifull human being.
    Don’t stop kissing and giving away the love that that has been given to you. This email caused me to cry like a baby and that’s very healing for me in off itself,God I feel like I know you, Ive had people as yourself throughout my life to offset the other spectrum and Love shall always prevail.

    Please be carfull newyears,as you sometimes mother I sometimes want to protect.

  13. Love the article Pam. Keep it Super Sunday is a point I make at http://www.65 – Acceleration.com; means empathy, on time,conscious tempo,and patience to determine longevity (K.I.S.S).

  14. Sanday says:

    I think you are a gift from God. I hope your contagious spirit spreads like a virus, and more Doctor’s blur the lines of professionalism just enough to let people know they care. Reading your stories of how much you care for your patients, has helped restore my faith in Doctor’s. You’ve given me glimpses into the struggles, and have helped me to see them as human being’s just like myself. I have learned that it’s really not easy to be a Doctor. I have read medical forums where pre-med student’s are discussing patient’s in such a negative light, and have seen this kind of thing, also in the hospitals, or medical offices. It only make’s patients want to leave and go elsewhere. I think it takes courage to climb higher than the hatreds of life, and be yourself, and not be afraid to love other’s. After all THAT is the greatest calling of all life’s professionalisms. Kudos to one of God’s own~ Pamela, your needed everywhere! I hope education catches up quick so we all can have a doctor/friend like you. God Bless You Eternally~ Sanday S.

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