The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, United States
As a medical student at Emory, I began adding sketches and snippets of dialogue to my charts as a way to spend more time with each patient, to focus more closely on the patient's expression, and to try to capture the essence of our encounter. I do not use the term “chief complaint,” instead looking and listening for the patient's main concerns, worries, and fears. Until reluctantly adopting the electronic medical record a decade ago, I had drawn nearly 5,000 sketches. All were unplanned and completed in ballpoint pen on whatever scrap of paper I happened to have, from prescription pads to paper towels.
I learned the importance of empathy and listening closely to patients from my late father, who was a general practitioner in Rockaway Beach, New York for nearly 40 years. His office was in our home, where every afternoon the living room became the waiting room. I never thought of his countless devoted patients as other than our houseguests. I cherish their memory, as I do that of the patients whom I have been privileged to care for.
Excerpted from the pages of Dr. Blum's Gentle Men, the following images share intimate patient expression and snippets of dialogue—allowing the reader a glimpse into the intimacy of the doctor-patient relationship.
Click on any image to enter the gallery.
ALAN BLUM, MD, is Professor and Endowed Chair in Family Medicine at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, where he founded and directs the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society. His sketches and stories of patients have appeared in numerous publications including The Color Atlas of Family Medicine, The Pharos, Pulse, Literature and Medicine, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. A self-taught artist, he has had solo exhibitions at the Kentuck Museum and Gallery, Houston Community College, the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, the Texas Medical Center Library, and several medical schools and hospitals. Dr. Blum has been invited to share his stories and sketches at dozens of conferences, courses in the medical humanities, and medical school and residency graduations. Gentle Men (Kershaw, SC: Firebrand Press) is a companion volume to Ladies in Waiting (Gordo, AL: Paper Souvenir), both available from Vamp & Tramp. His first book, Seeing Patients: The Sketchiest Details can be purchased by contacting Dr. Blum.