My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists: LuAnn Aquino, MD
When Dr. LuAnn Aquino got the measles as a little girl, her mother took her to the family doctor. Unlike many children, she wasn’t scared. In fact, she looked forward to it because she had such affection for her doctor. “He was always happy, always smiling and he made you feel good when you were sick,” she remembers. At the end of the visit, he would give her a lollipop from his bottom desk drawer. “I can still see his smile,” she says. Her experience with him, as well as with other family members who were physicians was the catalyst for her pursuing medicine. Her decision to become an internist however, was deeply personal and foreshadowed what would become a uniquely intuitive approach to practicing medicine.
Being Jimmy Stewart
For Dr. Aquino, being an internist means using more than your stethoscope or prescription pad, it means using your heart and mind as well. "My patients share with me their deepest concerns," she says, "so you find yourself dealing with a lot of social issues. Caring for my patients often has a social aspect to it." She says this is especially the case when treating more than one generation of a family, in which changes such as death and divorce can not only impact the health of her patients but also how she interacts with them. "Patients will always tell you their problem if you just listen. I’m there to help them and that’s what I try to do. I kind of look at it like Jimmy Stewart’s character in "It’s a Wonderful Life"—'Am I really changing anyone’s life? Am I helping people?' that’s what I want to be doing and it’s why I chose internal medicine."
Dr. Aquino graduated from the Medical College of Georgia and completed her residency at Atlanta Medical Center. Since then, she has operated her own private practice in Hilton Head Island, SC. Her husband, Jeffrey, has a dentistry practice in the same building. It is an ideal situation, but one she admits might be difficult to realize for internists just starting out in today’s environment. She recommends pursuing group practice, where young physicians can share the cost of a business with other partners. Another promising path she says is hospital medicine. “The hospitalists I know are very happy,” she says. "They like how it improves their personal life because you can schedule it nine to five." Would she make the same decision today that she made as a student to pursue internal medicine as a career? "I absolutely would," she says with enthusiasm in her voice. "It is so important to me to have that ongoing connection with my patients. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t do it."
Medicine with a Smile
Dr. Aquino’s affinity for connecting with others comes across as she discusses her work. Instead of drifting into "doctor speak" or avoiding the mention of a patient’s psychological or emotional well being, Dr. Aquino does the opposite. She treats the patient’s emotional and physical experience as one and the same, even from early on in her career. One such example comes from her residency, when she treated an unconscious elderly patient with dangerously low hemoglobin. She transfused the patient, which normally would not have been a problem, except that in this patient’s case, she was a Jehovah’s Witness, with religious beliefs that do not recognize this kind of intervention. "I remember the patient and the case as bright as day," she says, "Once I found out she was a Jehovah’s Witness, I knew that what I had done was against her wishes…yet it saved her life. It was a difficult moment."
Dr. Aquino is humble and saves her accolades for others. When asked what a proud accomplishment is for her professionally, she talks of a patient she admires. "She’s unbelievable," she says of the patient, "I’ve never seen anything like it. She’s legally blind from diabetes, has high blood pressure and a host of other conditions but she has a smile on her face every time I see her. She’s accepted her illnesses and limitations. It really puts things in perspective. Knowing patients like her and treating her make this job worthwhile."
Dr. LuAnn Aquino with her family
As for down time, she is equally unassuming. "We’re boring!" she jokes about her home life with husband Jeffrey and eight-year-old daughter Anna Lisa. "On the weekends we just kind of hang out and watch movies. After spending all week talking to people you just want to be with your family, you know?" Her favorites are action films, which she says are great for "taking her mind off things." She also walks every day for stress relief. For all of her warmth and charm, Dr. Aquino is an example of how even the most giving of doctors needs to recharge every once in a while.
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