My Kind of Medicine: Real Lives of Practicing Internists: Gregory Kane, MD, FACP, FCCP
On a rainy and damp March day in Philadelphia in the Hamilton auditorium at Jefferson Medical College, Gregory Kane circulates through an anxious and excited crowd of fourth year medical students. Some he knows quite well, stopping to chat or give a pat on the back; others he knows not at all, but he is there to support all of them as they wait for their envelopes announcing their residency matches. During the ceremony as the voices rise in excitement, he stands at the back of the room, tall and fit, in a white doctor’s coat, remembering his own Match Day as a Jefferson student. He exudes contentment. “I’m lucky I picked the perfect career,” he says.
Dr. Kane, 47, is the Residency Program Director and a Professor at Thomas Jefferson University’s Medical College. As such, he spends a good deal of time teaching and mentoring students. He teaches specifically on lung diseases and conducts small group seminars. He loves working with students. “I love their enthusiasm and energy, and their thirst for knowledge,” he says. He explains how students are at a unique juncture in their training that highlights their ability relating to patients. “The younger students who haven’t learned yet how to make the next step or diagnosis, they focus on connecting with the patient,” he says. “I like watching this innate skill come out. When they are good at this, and they also enjoy the diagnostic process, doctoring, and answering patients’ questions, I know they’ve made the right decision to go into internal medicine.”
As a former Jefferson student, Dr. Kane says he had many physician role models of his own during medical school and residency. One in particular who Dr. Kane worked with during his third-year clerkship made a big impact on him. “He would take us to lunch and talk about how satisfied he was with the patient aspect of his career,” he says, “and it was obvious how much he enjoyed it.” Recognizing the unique value in his mentor’s ritual, he now practices it himself, often taking students to lunch or for a coffee or snack break. He says these unguarded moments when students aren’t consumed with performance are telling. “It’s nice to have down time with them…those are the times when you really get to know them.”
From the treacherous southeast lanes of I-76, or as locals call it, “the Schuylkill,” the Schuylkill River strikes a picturesque image with the colorful Boathouse Row on the left and the stately Art Museum farther up. For Dr. Kane who regularly competes in triathlons, the river is home. “Oh, the Schuylkill is my favorite swim by far,” he says. “Temperature wise, it’s just amazing—better than lakes and the ocean, and it also flows downstream which helps.” The training is cathartic and satisfying for Dr. Kane, and the swimming, often seen as the most difficult leg of the event, is his strong suit.
Another difficult thing he loves to do is treat patients in the Intensive Care Unit. “I love working in the hospital and the ICU because I use the entire breadth of internal medicine,” he explains. “In the ICU, communication and goal setting are very important, which I enjoy. I also like being there for someone’s most critical point in life.” Sometimes these critical points occur not in the hospital, but in a patient’s home, as it did with one of his longtime patients and her husband.
His relationship with the couple began in 1990 when he treated the wife for an unusual lung infection. The infection was cured, but Dr. Kane continued to care for her for other minor problems for about ten more years, at which point her husband became severely ill with cancer. The husband became Dr. Kane’s patient. During the later stages while the man was receiving hospice care, Dr. Kane paid a home visit to the couple. After visiting with the husband, Dr. Kane sat down with the wife in the kitchen, where they talked while drinking tea and coffee. It was a difficult time for the family, but Dr. Kane embraced it and says students should know how moments like these can mean the most, not only to the patients and their families, but to physicians as well. “It is particularly gratifying to know a patient for this long, getting to know their family, going through a sensitive and difficult experience with them,” he says. “There is a special kind of reward in that.”
It was his appreciation for living life that drove Dr. Kane to make the decision to go into internal medicine, changing direction from his initial choice of engineering in college. “I enjoyed the technical work and found it challenging enough but the personal rewards just weren’t there,” he says. Now, as a husband and father of four, he is reaping the benefits of this long ago decision and the professional satisfaction he has found as an internist has overlapped into personal fulfillment. “Internal medicine gave me great flexibility,” he says. He uses his down time to run, bike, and swim, and spend time with his family, which has included coaching the soccer teams of three of his kids. He says he usually signs up to be the head coach so he can choose the days for practice, allowing him to get home early to pick them up. He recognizes the same priorities in his patients. He talks of one patient in particular with whom he connected, a man in his 50s who had battled life-threatening pneumonia. The man was on a respirator in the hospital for an entire month before Dr. Kane and his team were able to cure him. When the patient returned to the office for follow-up after rehabilitation and further recovery at home, Dr. Kane was grateful to be able to see him in that setting. “Now when I talk to him I get to hear about how he went hunting with his son in New Jersey,” he says.
Back in the auditorium after the Match Day ceremony, as the newly anointed first year residents sip champagne, laugh and cry, Dr. Kane is long gone—likely back to work to see a patient or instruct a student—but it won’t be long before he’s back.
Check out previous articles as physicians share what motivated them to become physicians as well as why they chose their particular type of practice.
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