My Kind of Medicine: Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, FACP.
Dr. Fincher became fast friends with "Mrs. Eva" when she first started practicing in 1988. An “older very dear lady,” Mrs. Eva’s appearance reminded Dr. Fincher of her grandmother. Suffering from congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, and hypertension, Mrs. Eva also had a seizure disorder and a leg amputation from childhood. She was a strong, independent woman who lived in her own house well into her 80s.
Mrs. Eva was thrilled when Dr. Fincher became pregnant, offering to baby sit for her when needed. But just eleven months after giving birth, Dr. Fincher was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer with a poor prognosis. Mrs. Eva was one of the very first people to call Dr. Fincher and became a source of strength, comfort, and support.
“She called me frequently to check on me during my illness,” Dr. Fincher said. “When she would come in for her doctor visits with me, frequently the conversation would begin with her asking about my health."
As Mrs. Eva grew older, Dr. Fincher and her young daughter would make "house calls" at her home, but they were more social visits than medical calls. As Mrs. Eva’s health deteriorated, Dr. Fincher took care of her at an assisted living home and a nursing home until she died a couple of years ago.
“Mrs. Eva was very much a blessing in my life.”
Dr. Fincher’s favorite patient, however, was her grandmother, who lived in Atlanta but would not see a doctor for maintenance care. She preferred that her granddaughter treat her over the phone and call in prescriptions.
Dr. Fincher convinced her grandmother to move to her town four years before her death at age 97. Caring for her grandmother as both physician and a family caretaker, Dr. Fincher learned firsthand about all sides of caring for the elderly: dealing with Medicare, keeping up with multiple medications, and the loss of independence, which is particularly difficult for patients with sharp minds but failing bodies.
“I honestly did not think she would last six months. What a blessing she was to my family and me. Just like Mrs. Eva, she taught me so much as a person and a doctor about having faith to carry you through the joys and sorrows of life.”
Professional and personal flexibility. Interpersonal relationships. A holistic approach to medicine. These are a few of the benefits of a career in internal medicine cited by Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, FACP.
All in the Family
The daughter of a physician, Dr. Fincher decided she wanted to go into medicine at the age of seven. As a young girl in the late 1960s, Dr. Fincher perceived her three career options as teacher, flight attendant, or nurse. The thought of assisting her father some day in the exciting white-cap-and-skirt uniform of a nurse served as the initial inspiration.
When Dr. Fincher’s mother explained that doctors give orders that nurses have to follow, it was enough for the oldest and most strong-willed child in the family to change her mind.
Deciding on a Career Path
A degree in biology from Oral Roberts University in 1981 led Dr. Fincher to the Medical College of Georgia, where she earned her medical degree in 1985. She completed her internship and residency at the Medical College of Georgia in 1988.
“I always wanted to practice internal medicine,” Dr. Fincher explained from her four-physician practice in rural east Georgia, about 30 miles west of Augusta. “I liked the idea of being able to see patients and treat whatever their problems are. I wanted to be a doctor for adults.”
In medical school, Dr. Fincher became interested in neurology. But by the end of her senior year she started to question that career path. During her internship she asked her residency director for two months of internal medicine and two months of neurology.
“While diagnosing headaches, stroke, and seizure is fascinating, I really liked the idea of being able to treat the whole patient,” Dr. Fincher said about her final decision to become an internist. “Plus, internal medicine involves psychiatry and neurology.”
Options and Flexibility
Dr. Fincher, who practices with her husband James Lemley, MD, FAAFP (a family practitioner and medical school classmate), credits internal medicine with allowing her greater freedom to decide where she wanted to practice medicine.
“If I had become a neurologist, I’d have had to practice in Augusta instead of in the small town where my husband was raised,” said Dr. Fincher. “Internists are needed everywhere – cities, suburbs, and rural areas.”
With the age of the four physicians in her practice ranging from 35 to 47 and their children ranging from four to 15 years old, the family-run practice benefits everyone involved.
“Our families value the practice and the practice values our families,” Dr. Fincher said.
Private practice allows Dr. Fincher to make time for her family and political involvement in health care issues.
“If I want to take off early to see my daughter’s school program or attend a legislative session in Atlanta, I don’t have to ask permission from anybody. I just have to let my partners know.”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Dr. Fincher and her husband have one daughter, Laura. The 15-year-old has always said she would never become a physician (“too much dinner table conversation about medicine!”). But recently, she changed her tune.
“Just this year Laura told us she's thinking about possibly becoming a physician,” said Dr. Fincher, “because, in her words, ‘of the respect that people still have for physicians, the ability to really help people, and the important role physicians have in a community.’”
Georgia on Her Mind
As a practicing internist in a rural setting, Dr. Fincher enjoys the daily medical challenges.
“You have to be a jack-of-all trades. You never know who’s going to walk through your door. We see patients ranging from young children to nursing home patients more than 100 hundred years old. It makes it interesting. I’m never bored.”
Dr. Fincher and husband Dr. James Lemley.
Another benefit of internal medicine training, according to Dr. Fincher, is that she can help those close to her. “It’s comforting to know that I can take care of my own family and friends. I know how to help them and advise them.”
A Personal Battle
The personal relationships Dr. Fincher has developed with her patients have helped with her own battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer that began 14 years ago. The entire community rallied around Dr. Fincher. Her name appeared on billboards with encouraging words such as “Dr. Jacqueline, we’re praying for you.”
“I received more cards, flowers, and food delivered to my house than you can imagine,” Dr. Fincher recalled. “I have a deep connection with this community. We’ve both been there for each other.”
The cancer support group that Dr. Fincher started 12 years ago is still going strong.
Like many physicians, Dr. Fincher sees reimbursement and business issues as the biggest challenges facing health care. Yet internists are uniquely positioned to make career choices.
“Internists don’t have to lock themselves into private practice for 50 years,” Dr. Fincher said. “The broad knowledge gained through internal medicine training is transferable to other industries related to medicine. Internists will have flexibility 10, 20, 30, even 40 years from now.”
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