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George M. Abraham, MD, MPH, FACP, FIDSA, on the influence of Saint Teresa and the importance of empathetic listening
George M. Abraham, MD, MPH, FACP, FIDSA
Internist and Infectious Disease specialist, Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Chief of Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Massachusetts University of Pharmacy and Health Services.
— MEDICAL SCHOOL —
Christian Medical College in India and a Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
— RESIDENCE —
1. I was born and raised in… India. My father was a graduate student at the Princeton Theological Seminary but didn’t have a scholarship that allowed my mother to travel and so instead of being born in Princeton, NJ, I was born in India.
2. As a child I was… fortunate to have lived in many parts of India and also in Israel (where my father was a doctoral student) and so went to school there for about a year and a half.
3. I decided to be a doctor… because I was so poor in mathematics, while biology was my strength in school. I decided to give up any aspirations to go in to engineering and chose instead to go into medicine. While in medical school and residency in India, I got to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity (Saint Teresa's organization) which solidified my interest in medicine, in general.
4. The person(s) who influenced me the most… Saint Teresa, not as a religious figure, but the reason why she earned the title “The Saint of the Gutters” because of her ability to go to any lengths to care for people who had no one else to care for them, who were dying, helpless and homeless.
5. I chose internal medicine because… I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of attempting to solve a puzzle when given a set of facts, sort of like figuring out what is in an envelope without opening it.
6. What I find most rewarding about my career is… I am self-employed for my clinical practice of internal medicine and infectious disease which helps me understand all the burdens of practice in solo or small groups, yet fortunate to be equally involved in academic medicine, both as a clinician-educator (Professor of Medicine) and administrator, thus helping me straddle ‘the best of both worlds'; more importantly relate to issues in both domains of practice. Further, I continue to volunteer at free clinics in the area, when possible, mentoring young medical students, but more importantly, caring for vulnerable and economically deprived people, that helps to keep me grounded and remind me why I went into the profession of medicine.
7. I joined ACP because… the College represents the best of the profession, be it intellectual and academic standards, professionalism, diversity and inclusivity.
8. An award or achievement I am proud of is… when I graduated from medical school as one of the top 5 students in a class 50 students. My father is a minister and seminary professor (retired) and my mother was a school teacher. While we had grown up in significant poverty, their emphasis all along was on education and their life savings were spent in getting me through medical school, so I was proud to have done justice to their investment.
9. My advice to medical students is… constantly enhancing the ability to listen which can inform and drive better decision-making and make us more empathetic and astute physicians.
10. I like people who… ‘walk the walk and not only talk the talk’ because they serve as role-models for me. I tend to observe how others conduct themselves in public or in small-groups and try to pick up strong behaviors that I can emulate.
11. My family includes… my wife Susan, who recently received Mastership in the College, an internist and Program Director of our 75-member residency program who remains the role model as well as my ‘muzzle’ to contain my ‘foot in mouth disease’ tendencies; our pride and joy, our two daughters, Miriam, who is wrapping up law school at the University of Chicago and will start work as an attorney in Washington DC; and Elizabeth, who is wrapping up her education degree at the University of Connecticut and will start work as a school teacher in the East Hartford public school system.
12. My interests/hobbies are… choral music and church music which challenges me as well as works as an excellent stress-reliever.
13. If I had the time, I would like to learn… the guitar, which is a very versatile instrument for impromptu and casual singing.
14. I enjoy listening to… country and gospel music, primarily, but also orchestral music.
15. I enjoy watching… detective TV series such as ‘Poirot’ and of course the NBA.
16. My idea of a great vacation is… visiting places outside of the US to experience new cultures and cuisine.
17. Something others may not know about me is… I am a foodie and love to try new cuisines and new cultures.
18. If I could be anything other than a physician I would be… a music conductor or a chef.
19. A person I greatly admire is/was… William Osler and Arthur Conan Doyle (for having created the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes) for their ability to inculcate the fine art of observation, deduction and patient listening in different ways, respectively.