Seven Marks of a Great Physician

It struck me just today that I’ve been a physician for over twenty years. It seemed to be just yesterday that my professor of medicine placed the green doctoral hood over my neck, and pronounced that a scrawny young student was suddenly a healer. Now I find that I am the teacher, trying to impart to my medical students a little skill, a little wisdom, a little taste of what it is to be a physician that you cannot get in a lecture hall.

I thought about what I have learned over the past twenty years out of the classroom. I thought about what you won’t read in any medical textbook. As this new generation of physicians set out, what do they need to know? What principles will lead them to lasting success in medicine and in life? So for the young doctors in my life, here are my seven marks of a great physician:

A great physician sees medicine as a profession, not a job. A profession, historically, is far more than a way to make money. For millennia, medicine has stood only second to the clergy as a vocation of sacred honor and importance to society. Multiple forces both within & without are now trying to reduce medicine in your eyes to just another job, but you must keep before your eyes the vision of medicine as something far more.

When you receive your hood, you have been bestowed an honor & duty unlike any other in this world. You are accepted into a fellowship of men and women that stretch back thousands of years. The knowledge, skills, & tools that you possess are the culmination of the dedication & sacrifice of countless physicians who have come before you throughout the centuries. This mantle of healer you will wear for the rest of your life. Feel the weight of it, & do not forget it.

You have been given the trust of entering into the lives and the deaths of your patients. You have been given the duty to heal to the best of your ability. You have been given the honor of passing on the knowledge & wisdom you acquire to the next generation of healers. All of this is yours as a physician.

Please do not shrink the wonder & glory of this profession into a job. The moment you begin seeing it as just a job is the moment you stop being all that you were called to be & that you are capable of being. Never lose what it means to be in the profession of medicine.

A great physician masters the business of medicine. Learn basic economics & business accounting. Understand how money flows in the healthcare system, and why. Know contracting, coding, negotiation, insurance, & cash flow.

Why, you ask? Why bother with these dollars & cents when I am supposed to be healing the sick? Because no matter what type of practice environment you find yourself in, you need to know the business of medicine in order to practice the art & science of medicine. If you cannot pay yourself & your employees you cannot serve your patients.

A prime example was the Nalle Clinic of Charlotte, NC. For 80 years it served hundreds of thousands of patients as one of the preeminent multi-speciality clinics in the nation. But in the financial turbulence of the 1990s its physicians did not adequately understand the business of medicine. As a result, 140 physicians found themselves without a job as the Nalle Clinic was forced to shutter its doors forever in a financial collapse.

Part of being a good steward of your skills includes being a good steward of the money that flows through the healthcare system as a result of your labors. You don’t have to get an MBA, but you cannot just assume that “the money will take care of itself.” Do not ignore the business of medicine.

A great physician is a confident physician. One lesson I did not understand when I was a young doctor is how much patients want and need to trust their physician. Especially in times of crisis and illness, patients are looking for a rock of stability amidst their uncertainty & chaos. They need you to be that rock of calm confidence that they can put their trust in.

You don’t need to have all the answers, you don’t need to reach beyond your limits, you don’t need to act like a god. But what you do need is to show patients a clear and confident path that they know they can follow. Not sure of the diagnosis? “We will do this & this & this until we find out what is going on.” More than one option? “We can do A or B or C, and they are all viable options. How would you like to proceed?” There is always a way to relate to your patients that bolsters their trust & confidence in you and their hope for their health.

A great physician finds his own path. As you practice medicine be observant of your life. Look at yourself & notice where your strengths are best displayed, where your energy is pumped, where your joy is renewed. As you learn more about yourself, opportunities will open, and you will become the doctor that is most you, which will be your unique greatness.

I know a physician who trained as a cardiologist but heard about a relatively new procedure at the time: renal artery stenting. Intrigued, he pursued it & became one of the nation’s authorities on renal stenting— a far cry from his resident days of torturing unfortunate medical students such as myself. I know another physician who after decades as a pathologist looked at himself and realized he had other gifts. He went back to get a masters in counseling, & returned to his medical school not to peer into microscopes but to mentor & guide hundreds of young physicians.

Your path as a physician will be exactly that: your path. No one else can lay it out for you, and even you can not dream where it will take you. Keep your eyes open, and your path will astonish you.

A great physician is known by his influence, not his competence. All of medical school seems to revolve around one word: competence. From studying obscure diseases to memorizing muscle groups to passing board exams, formal medical education shouts out that the greatest doctor is the most competent doctor.

Not so. Yes, you must be competent, but competence is only the first step, not the finish line. The truly great physicians are the ones who leverage their competence with influence to produce a lasting legacy.

Case in point: the founder of the medical group I work for, Dr. Jerry Miller. He took a rural family practice and led it to be a multi-speciality group of over 150 providers, with cutting edge research, diagnostic facilities, & information systems that have dramatically impacted the healthcare of an entire region. Did he do this by having the highest scores on his board exams? No, he did it through influence: knowing the power of his vision, his words, his example, & his presence on those around him.

Although your path may not lead you to be the president of a multi-speciality group, the principle of influence has the same power over your life. Your vision, your words, your example, how you treat your coworkers and patients, the tone you set daily in the office, the dreams you dream for yourself & others— these will be the determinants of your true greatness. Learn the power of your influence, & use it wisely.

A great physician takes good care of their self. You are a human being. You have physical, emotional, & spiritual needs. You cannot ignore them & expect to operate at your best.

The great healer Jesus went to weddings, cried at funerals, ate at feasts, took naps when he was tired, withdrew by himself to spend hours in prayer. If such a man as he needed to do such ordinary things as a human to continue to minister to the people who needed him, do you really think you cannot?

Don’t allow short-sighted thinking or simple carelessness to shorten or impoverish your life and diminish the legacy you can leave. Take care of yourself, and let others take care of you too.

A great physician loves. You heal the sick. This is a good & noble thing. But no matter if you cure a patient’s cold or their cancer, it is only temporary. If by your skill your patients live to be 110, they will still all die.

If you make enough money so that your family is never in want, it will one day fail. If you build the greatest clinic in the world, it will one day crumble to the ground. If you win the Nobel prize, it will one day be forgotten.

There is only one thing that will eclipse and outlast any other achievement, and that is love. Ponder the wisdom of Saint Paul:

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

I know it might sound trite or unrealistic or touchy-feely, but it is true: there is nothing greater you can do as a physician or human being than to love.

Love your patients. That doesn’t mean you have to form unhealthy bonds with them, or let them rule your life, or that you can’t put some of them out of your life for their & your own good. But whether you are seeing them for five minutes in an urgent care clinic or care for them from cradle to grave, you can love each & every patient you serve. It really does make all the difference, both for you & for them.

Love the people in your life: your coworkers, friends and family. For each one of them, you have the opportunity to relate to them in a totally unique & irreplaceable way. Whether you play a big or small role in their lives, they need you to love them. No one else can love them in the way that you can. Love them, & let them love you.

Treat medicine as a profession. Learn its business. Be confident. Find your path. Use your influence. Take care of yourself. And above all, love, and I guarantee that you will be a great physician.

Family Christmas Letter 2009

Wow, it’s hard to believe that 2009 will mark the eleventh Christmas our family has been living in Kingsport. Composing this letter makes me realize that Gail & I have now spent half of our married lives here and seen our children grow up in this house. Speaking of children…

Andrew celebrated sixteen in a big way, getting his driver’s license and his Dad’s Honda Accord. (It was so weird seeing him drive the kids to school for the first time.) He completed a leadership training experience at Doe River Gorge this summer and really loved it. He played varsity soccer for the first time this year as well. We are starting to look to see where God will guide him for the right college and the right major for his gifts.

 Lily at thirteen continues to blossom like a flower, more beautiful with each passing year. She continues to do good work at school, and is becoming a gifted volleyball player. She continues to enjoy photography and hanging with her friends. She has had a lot of fun with her friends doing Cotillion this Fall.

Michael at eleven is as infectiously joyful as this photo shows! He continues to develop his academic, social, musical, and sports gifts. He loves learning, loves soccer, and loves being with people. He is fascinated with everything and is always asking questions and trying to figure things out.

Gail continues to relish her role as Mom, and I have been very grateful for the multiple opportunities that God has given me this year to minister as a husband, father, friend, physician & writer.

God has indeed blessed all of our family this year, and I am truly thankful. But I am also keenly aware that the foundation of my joy & my hope should not be in the blessings of family, friends, health, or even ministry. My one and only hope should be firmly fixed on nothing less than what happened in a stable two thousand years ago. Romans 15:12 reminds us that “The root of Jesse (Jesus) will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope.” May the reality of Christ fill your hearts with hope & joy this Christmas season.

Family Christmas Letter 2008

It’s hard to believe that Christmas is upon us once again… life seems more frenzied, more frantic all the time. And yet… we all need time set apart, time to rest, time to remember what makes life worth living. I’ve decided to make this Advent a time to joyfully remember our family’s blessings, and to share them with our friends…

Gail thoroughly enjoyed our second Disney cruise this year, as well as spending a week at the beach with the kids. Her extra special blessing is looking forward to spending her first Christmas at Disney World this year.

Andrew at 15 was blessed to get a learner’s permit this fall (although Mom & Dad think it’s a mixed blessing at best!). He also had a tremendous time at a 3 week leadership training experience at a local Christian camp, went to an art camp, & did cross-country at school this fall.

Our 12 year old Lily loved being a tween on a Disney cruise (especially swimming with dolphins), as well as her week at the beach and at camp. She also made the volleyball team at school and is playing in a local league this winter.

Still youngest at 10, Michael remembers all the great times he had on the cruise, as well as going to summer camp, baseball, soccer, school, & tons of other stuff.

I’ve had an incredibly blessed year. Every day I am blessed to be a physician and make a difference in people’s lives. It is such a joy to be a father and see the kids grow up, and Gail & I had a wonderful getaway in Charleston, S.C. this June. Most of all, I’m so blessed to have Christ in my life, and so thankful for His love & leading.

Of course, writing this letter means that we have the blessing of friends to share with, and we thank God for your friendship through the years. Have a very merry Christmas from the Hollandsworths!

Why I Am Still a Physician

sthethoscopePressures, struggles, irritations, frustrations, restrictions, disappointments, stresses, changes— mention these words to any physician and you’re likely to open up a floodgate of charged words and exhausting emotions. I could give you a long list in each of these categories myself. And yet, I still absolutely love coming to work every morning.

Why am I still a physician? Why do I persevere through all the difficulties and take in stride all the frustrations? Because it is only as a physician that I have the opportunity every day to be:

A Healer… Physicians (myself included) can lose an appreciation for the wonder of healing. It is no small thing to possess the skills and ability to improve and restore health and well-being. It is such a routine thing for me to give some penicillin for a strep throat, and yet it truly is a great and wondrous thing, something my patient cannot do for themselves and that would have been impossible just 100 years ago. I change people’s lives for the better every day.

A Listener… So many people need someone who will listen, and I consider it an honor to be able to lend them an ear. I have patients I see every month who admit they are coming in just because they know they can talk to me about their lives. I know that I am helping them, sometimes even more than the medicine I prescribe, just by genuinely being interested in what need to say.

A Teacher… I love to teach, and I get to teach people one-on-one every day about one of the most important topics in the world: their health. Wow! I love it!

A Friend… “How was your cruise?” “How many grandkids now?” “How’s your Mom doing?” “What do you call a dead blonde in a closet?” Being a physician means I have hundreds of people who I truly consider my friends, who bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. I remember one of my college professors who told me I should go into research, but I knew I would just go stir-crazy staring at test tubes all day. I love being with people, and being a physician is a great way to be a friend to many..

A Pastor… I have people confide to me the me deep places of their heart, things they would never tell even their own pastor. I give spiritual counsel, I point out God’s paths, I pray. Being a physician can be the closest thing to pastoral ministry that you can get. My patients are my parish.

A Giver… The Scriptures say “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I can give to people every day, of my time, my skills, my knowledge, medicines, and countless papers, pamphlets, and books. I am tremendously blessed.

A Receiver… I receive so much— smiles, words and notes of appreciation, little gifts from the heart, and the satisfaction every day that I have walked with God and helped others to do the same.

A Lover… in the truest sense of the word, I have a wonderful opportunity through medicine to love people, through both word and deed. To love and be loved is the most important thing in the world, and I can think of no way I can love and be loved more than in medicine.

Just look at that list! There is no other profession on this planet that allows me to be a healer, listener, teacher, friend, pastor, giver, receiver, and lover, all rolled into one, every time I put that stethoscope around my neck. That is why I am still a physician.

Going to Together for the Gospel

Just like gazillions of other bloggers, I’m headed out this evening to Together for the Gospel. Looking forward to some great fellowship, teaching, swag, and the Band of Bloggers meeting tomorrow. Hope to post both some photos and some “live-blogging” in the next few days.

In book news, I’ve received the second printing of my book to distribute, and a local pharmacy and gift shop is carrying the book now. Please keep praying that people would be blessed by it.

New Site Update!

For people who primarily keep up with my writing by RSS feed, jump over to my actual site and take a look— I’ve completely redid the site using wordpress 2.5 and a lightly modified mimbo theme. I think it really rocks! Go ahead, surf around, kick the tires, and let me know what you think!

Family Christmas Letter 2007

The morning after Thanksgiving is my day to take the family Christmas tree out of the box, assemble it, arrange the strings of lights and hang all the ornaments. But not this year! I didn’t do any of my annual ritual. Instead, two young men ages 14 & 9 and a young women age 11 did it all. Gail & I wondered, “Where have our `children’ gone?”

IMG_2386Andrew is in the 8th grade. Hard to believe he’s only one year away from driving! He ditched his glasses for contacts this year, and is getting more interested in drawing, art, and writing. Fortunately for him (and for his parents) he isn’t interested in girls yet, but I know it isn’t far away.

Michael & LilyLily in 5th grade passed Gail up this year in height, and fully relished that achievement. She is doing great in braces, and still loves volleyball and soccer. I am still dumbfounded as to how my chubby-faced toddler has transformed into a stunningly beautiful young woman.

IMG_1060_3Michael in 3rd grade has become a Discovery Channel junkie— he loves to learn about everything. He played baseball and soccer this year and is taking piano. And yes, he’s just as full of life as the photos portray!

Gail (along with the rest of us!) enjoyed a week in the lap of luxury when we took a Disney cruise this Spring. Our favorite experiences were:

  • Gail: beautiful beaches
  • Andrew: unlimited food
  • Lily: seeing the Caribbean & meeting people
  • Michael: ping-pong with Dad
  • John: sending out “I’m here, you’re not!” emails

God continues to bless me (John) way beyond what I deserve. I have a wonderful family that fills me with joy, a thriving medical practice that allows me to help many people every year, and continued opportunities to teach & write & author my website.

Life really is a journey, a journey of learning each day how to live and love. I am so thankful that through the birth & life and death of Christ it is a never-ending journey with God as both its source and goal. May the coming year be filled with love & laughter as we journey together with good friends and a good God.

Merry Christmas from the Hollandsworths!

Yes, This Website Is iPhone Compatible!


Just in case you needed to know, Light Along the Journey checks out just fine on my new iPhone. Too bad no Canadian blogger can do any of his own field testing. he he

Christian Carnival: Go Go Google Reader Edition

With apologies to Inspector Gadget, here is this week’s edition of the Christian Carnival. Hey, haven’t you wanted to read all the posts in the Carnival all at once? I tried doing something like that last year when I hosted using Bloglines but it was a little cumbersome. What if you could just string together a bunch of posts on a custom built web page??? Well THANK YOU GOOGLE READER, for you can do just that with it’s sharing functionality. So, if you want to read all the posts(or their summaries) on one page, just CLICK THIS LINK!

For all you other guys, and for the benefit of giving out some linky love, here are all the posts in standard fashion:

First up is not a post contribution, but a note sent to me about another Christian carnival, this one that features Canadian bloggers (yea, there are other Canadian bloggers besides YOU KNOW WHO)!

Next up is John Fooshee, a great guy I know who church plants & blogs making his debut on the Carnival with a discussion of recognizing and using your gifts in the post entitled Playing Your Instrument.

Great Scott, Boy Wonder!! The Parableman has just written a post named Holy Ambiguity!

Jan at The View from Her has some wise words on the topic of About Not Having Sex.

The Participatory Bible Blog thinks about the nature of “answered” prayer in the post Praying, Being Heard & Not Getting It.

The Evangelical Ecologist talks this week about how God signs His covenants with His creation in the post The Uniqueness of Christian Ecology.

Darren presents Calvin’s Sacramental Theology posted at Historical

Sam Peterson presents an interesting proposal in his post Christmas for the Poor.

Walking Like Peter is this week’s post from Joyce at

Amanda presents Am I really a disciple? posted at Imago Dei.

Martin LaBar at Sun & Shield asks Are Christians Required to be Vegetarians?

Richard H. Anderson presents Language of Election in Luke posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos.

Patricia presents Make the Most of Every Moment: Lessons from the Terminal Illness That Wasn’t posted at A Better You Blog.

Bryan McKenzie talks about heresy old and new with his post on Prosperity Theology.

Mark Olson presents Crutches for the Crippled Christians posted at Pseudo-Polymath.

Bev Schweigert presents Mary Listens, Martha Labors posted at Glory In The Cross.Finally, I will chip in with another post from my long term project of blogging my way chapter by chapter through John Piper’s book Future Grace with my post Grace and Obedience.

Please doublecheck the hyperlinks of your entry— I want everyone to be able to read everyone else. If I skipped any entries or made any mistakes just shoot me an email and I will correct it promptly. Have a great week!

Open Heart Surgery Assembly Line

krispy kreme doughnuts assembly line

Well, I visited for the first time one of the crowning glories of American Culture, Krispy Kreme. I was fascinated by an assembly line that Henry Ford would have been proud of, capable of taking flour and oil and churning out 2600 delicious globs of sugar and fat per hour. Staring after line after line of doughnuts emerged from their oil and sugar bath, it suddenly came to me: this isn’t an assembly line for doughnuts, it’s an assembly line for open heart surgery patients! And each little doughnut became in my mind a gurney being wheeled into a surgical suite to have its chest split open. Just a little cheery thought to start your week from your friendly neighborhood blogging physician.