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More than five years after entrusting my breast physician with my health, he retired leaving all of his patients behind. Normally, one’s retirement should be worth celebrating. But at his order when he left, there was no advance notification, no informative letter ensuring a continuity of care…just a vague message on the voicemail that the office was becoming part of another physician group.

When I was finally able to reach someone after five days of trying, it was not too surprising to find myself speaking to a receptionist full of anger and self-pity having been thrust into the unenviable position of delivering the news to a completely uninformed patient population.

I was just trying to schedule my annual mammogram and accompanying ultrasound that had been the standard of care for me. On her end of the line, everything was a problem – yes, she could get me in next week but no, they could not do the ultrasound without a prescription. Fine, no problem, I can get that handled.

Yes, the radiologist would do the mammogram but she would not be doing a manual exam – also a previously standard part of care with my suddenly former doctor.

Okay, I can manage that as my gynecologist and primary doctor actually care about my breast health and are sure to make this part of my annual visits with them.

No, she wasn’t sure if my insurance would cover the new practice or its physicians, but if I wanted the Monday appointment, she needed to get it into the calendar now – and all of this coming at me in terse, rapid fire responses. I informed her that I would need time to research coverage and to think about whether I wanted my health handled by the new providers (in my mind, a highly stressed, over-extended, and highly impersonal healthcare group).

My situation was simple – just a call about an annual check up. But what about the women being seen with suspicious lumps or a recent diagnosis? How well was their transition being handled during a time already full of stress and anxiety for them? What kind of “reception” were they getting?

I often say our legacy is created every day through the actions and choices we make. My doctor’s choice to take his leave by turning his back and closing the door is the last impression I have of him and, clearly, not the best.

Sadly, the transition did not have to look like this at all. When my gynecologist passed at 81, we all received a beautiful letter from his wife and his office sharing the news of his death, his wishes for his patients’ health going forward and letting us know the confidence he had in the successor he had chosen and groomed when he’d learned he didn’t have long to live.

Yes, we each have the right to privacy and to make our own choices but they are not without impact. Is this really how my breast cancer specialist wants to be remembered? What about the concept of do no harm? Raising the stress level and anxiety of patients and staff certainly seems contrary to that notion. This is exactly the kind of scenario that patients rail against when they call for quality of care. Patients, especially those dealing with a questionable lump, test result, or recent diagnosis, should be able to expect more than this.

A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed ~ Henrik Ibsen

Bon voyage, doctor. You sailed your ship and the new physician group sank theirs in one five-minute phone call with me. Patients, too, can make the choice to walk away and close a door. Fortunately, there are many compassionate providers out there, one of whom will now be getting my business…and, yes, it is a business.

Caduceus image courtesy of jscreationzs at

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