Intended for healthcare professionals

Analysis Personal paper

A friend in need: why friendship matters in medicine

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 01 July 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a528
  1. David Loxterkamp, medical director
  1. 1Seaport Family Practice, Belfast, ME 04915, USA
  1. mclobster{at}

    Something caught my eye in the news report of David Demuth’s untimely death—something more than the tragedy of his dying at age 58, just a week after receiving the “American Family Physician of the Year” award for 2008.

    Some would say small wonder—he provided check-ups for every age group, delivered babies (by caesarean section when necessary), helped out in the emergency department, attended hospital patients, and consulted for subspecialists when they needed a generalist. He made home visits to families in crisis and stood in for an elderly physician in a neighbouring town on weekends “to give him a break.” He was the team physician for York (Nebraska) area athletics, volunteered for the York County Drug Task Force and Habitat for Humanity, and raised beef cattle in his spare time.

    But the busy doctor left us with more than the example of his self sacrifice. He coached us to “listen to your patients. Most of the time, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them.”1 He set his own priorities: “I pride myself in giving that individual person his time. After all, they’re interrupting their day to see us. I believe in the saying that patients don’t care what certifications you have on your wall; they know when you care.”1 And his admission that “we become friends and family with our patients”1 is something we all know is more than cliché.

    I grew up in a medical family. My mother was a “stay at home” nurse who returned to her profession after my father died. He was a general practitioner who poured small town values into my veins before his early death. His role as a solo practitioner in a small town—with all of its mixed blessings—cast a long shadow over my career. By his example, he prepared …

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