BIFMC Volunteer Physician and Author of A Doctor a Day, Dr. Bernard Mansheim, shares his thoughts on on Health Care, Writing, Volunteering, and the Importance of Self Care.
Interview with Carrie Moores
How many years have you been a volunteer with the Clinic? I have volunteered at the free clinic for about 4 years. I also served on board for 2 years.
What is it about BIFMC’s mission that appeals to you personally? People need health care and should not have to grovel. It is personally rewarding to lift the burden of worry off the shoulders of those who cannot afford health insurance. Patients are visibly relieved to be able to focus on getting healthy without being faced with the financial stress. At BIFMC we are privileged to care for people of all backgrounds without asking them where they came from and why they are there. We can focus on their health care needs so they can easier manage the other stressors in their lives.
You initially earned your BA in English Literature. Did you originally wish to pursue a career in the language arts or teaching? I wanted to be a doctor from about age 10. My father was a physician and my mother was a nurse. Both were role models who quietly supported the professional decisions made by their five children. Medical schools back then recommended that undergraduates seek a broad liberal arts education while fulfilling the admission science requirements. So, I chose English because I love language, culture, conversation, reading, and writing. I believe I brought with me to medical school a deep insight into how people communicate, and an ability to understand their emotions. These insights make up the “art” of medicine. The technical knowledge I learned makes up the “science.” To be a good doctor means marrying the art and science of medicine. My background in English Literature was invaluable.
What lead you to pursue a career in medicine following the completion of your BA? How do you feel your knowledge and experience as a English major helped aid your career as a doctor, if at all? What inspires you to write? Has your long practice as a physician influenced your writing? I have given many talks on many subjects to many audiences over my career. I greatly enjoy learning and sharing what I have learned. I have always enjoyed writing, and have collected bits and pieces of poetry and prose that are safely hidden in my personal files. My experience in medicine spans nearly five decades. I have taught, done research, practiced medicine, and done administrative work, and have had the pleasure of working with health care professionals across the US and even in Europe. After retirement, I began to try my hand at writing novels. Like any author, I “write what I know.” And I know medicine best. So my books, though novels, are stories oriented toward health care, but include many sub-themes: ethics, morality, empathy, human suffering, malpractice, stress of medical practice, and more. I find writing very personally rewarding and devote a lot of time to making sure that my words and sentences are clear, succinct, and reflect my own writing style. And, I hope anyone who reads my work finds it interesting and thought-provoking.
In the description of your latest novel, A Doctor A Day, it states, “It is reported by JAMA and the AMA that approximately a doctor a day commits suicide due to the psychological burden of a his/her work…The mental health support system for doctors is severely lacking. All of these issues lead to the important question, ‘Who heals the healer?'” – This is an important question. How do you feel residency and clinical practices/hospitals could better prepare and support physicians emotionally? What do you do in your own work for self-care in such a stressful career? My first novel, A Doctor A Day, was titled to reflect the fact that every year in the US there are over 350 suicides among physicians, which is 1.5 times the rate of the general population! This tragic fact has many reasons, but almost all of them have to do with the stressors of medical practice. The burden of caring for dying patients can become overwhelming, and the support systems for doctors are almost non-existent. I wanted the lay population to get a sense of how stressful it is to carry the never-ending responsibility of doctors for their patients. Patients rightfully trust their doctors, and want to believe they are strong and confident. But it is important to realize that doctors, like anyone else, have “feet of clay.”
Everyone has their own way of handling the stress of medical practice. I have focused on my family- my wife, Denise, and three children (all grown). I have been physically active with every kind of sport to offer a diversion over many years. Denise and I have traveled widely; I read, relax, continue to enjoy sports, and now I have time to devote to writing. I have published three books and am part way through two more.
You volunteer by helping uninsured adults without health insurance in your spare time. What would you say is the biggest misconception about the uninsured? Why is it important to you to give back after so many years of work, particularly to the uninsured population? I have a personal debt to society, having had the privilege of becoming a doctor at a time when the vast majority of my medical education was paid through public funding. I am very happy to give my time now to people who cannot afford to pay for health care. It is an honor to be able to work with all the remarkably talented, kind, and devoted volunteers at the BIFMC.
The general population does not realize that the vast majority of our patients work. They work at jobs for long hours trying to make ends meet. If we can take some of that burden from their shoulders, it is personally rewarding.
What advice would you give to those considering volunteer work – or conversely, writing a novel? Can you draw any parallels between the two? I am fortunate to have training and experience in a profession that lends itself to volunteer work. For anyone who does not happen to be a health professional, I would say: “just find a place where you can offer a part of your life experience to relieve the burdens of those in need. If you are healthy and successful, and feel so inclined, there are many places to give back to the community.”
As far as being a novelist- it starts with a pencil and a piece of paper. Just start writing, then keep writing, then edit, then continue writing. It may come to you or it may not. But you will never know until you try it.
You can purchase your copy via Amazon Smile listing Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic as your selected nonprofit, and a portion of proceeds will benefit the Clinic!
About Bernard Mansheim M.D.
Prior to enrolling in medical school, Bernard Mansheim received a B. A. in English Literature. After he completed medical school and post-graduate training, he began his career with academic appointments at Harvard Medical School and the University of Florida College of Medicine as an Infectious Disease Specialist. He left academic medicine for private practice, and then became Chief Medical Officer of a national health insurance company for the last ten years of his career. He has lectured extensively on various topics, including medical ethics and managed health care, and has served as an expert witness in medical malpractice cases. He received awards from the Florida Medical Association and the Florida Hospital Association for a monthly newspaper column he wrote for a few years. After his thirty-five year career, he became a health care consultant, has been a member of several non-profit boards, and continues to volunteer weekly as a physician at Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic.
Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic is a free clinic in Charleston, SC, that provides free medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist. The Free Clinic serves uninsured adults living at or below 299 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, James, & Wadmalaw Island or Folly Beach, or serve the Hospitality Industry of Downtown Charleston. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.