The art of compassion
James Lynch, M.D., was just a medical student when his first patient found him.
The man had been diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, had a lump on his neck and was in denial about the whole situation. Lynch decided to try and get through to him.
“I said, ‘You are a machinist, have you ever been in a place where you can see even though a machine is working fine, it is going to break? Don’t you understand that’s what we are saying about your body?’” Lynch said. “The next morning he was willing to do everything. When he asked a question about his blood pressure medicine, an intern stepped forward to answer it. He said, ‘No, no that is my doctor’ and pointed to me.
“It was one of those sentinel moments in life when I realized I was not uncomfortable talking about his mortality or my mortality. There are just some people that are and some that aren’t.”
A medical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of lymphoma, Lynch has spent his career taking care of patients who are grappling with issues of life and death, treatment and remission, hope and sorrow. It’s a privilege, he says, to be let into patients’ lives, whether it’s sharing their joy when they enter remission or being with them at the bedside in their final moments of life.
Through his teaching and by his example, he encourages medical students to approach their patients the same way, with compassion and caring as key players in their treatment arsenal. And the students, clearly, appreciate the lessons. Three times Lynch has received
the college’s Hippocratic Award, which the senior class gives to the physician they want to emulate, and he has been named Clinical Teacher of the Year five times. He was also a finalist for the national Humanism in Medicine Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“At the end of the day, I believe I am doing what I was created to do,” he said. Now, after spending eight years in a dual role with UF and the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center, Lynch recently was named assistant dean of admissions for the College of Medicine.
“My goal is I don’t just want the smartest people, I want the best and most caring people.”