Good Doctors: Stories from the Heart of Health Care

As a practicing physician and chief medical officer of Press Ganey Associates, where he leads the development of strategies for measuring and improving the patient experience, Dr. Thomas H. Lee has his finger on the pulse of health care and the mood of its clinicians.

In a new podcast series titled, “Good Doctors: Stories from the Heart of ​Health Care,” Dr. Lee interviews physicians who have found goals through their patient care that shape the way they think of themselves and their work. In this series, Dr. Lee invites some of these physicians to share the unique ways they have combined their professional expertise with out-of-the-box thinking to create meaningful, positive change.

Check back monthly for new episodes.


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1. Reducing Fear

While working in the breast center at a Houston hospital 15 years ago, Dr. Emily Sedgwick observed that when the facility’s doctors and their family members came in for a screening mammogram, they received their mammography results, as well as additional breast imaging and breast biopsies when necessary, on the same day as their screening appointment. Other patients, meanwhile, had to schedule appointments for those additional procedures and return to the hospital a few anxiety-filled weeks later. Believing that every patient should be treated like a VIP, Dr. Sedgwick, now with Baylor College of Medicine, implemented a same-day breast biopsy program at Baylor that has drastically reduced patients’ fears and worries around the mammogram screening process. 

3. Summer Camp

Realizing that many of her pediatric patients did not know anyone else with a cleft lip and/or cleft palate, Dr. Laura Monson, a plastic surgeon specializing in craniofacial disease at Texas Children’s Hospital, started a summer camp to build a community among her patients. This free, three-day camp serves roughly 50 children per year, helping them build interpersonal relationships and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones through physical challenges.

5. This Is Our Lane

Dr. Joseph Sakran was given a second chance at life after he survived a gunshot wound to the throat at age 17. The desire to provide this same opportunity to others is what compelled him to study medicine. Now a trauma surgeon in the emergency department at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Sakran created the Twitter handle “@ThisIsOurLane” to unite health care professionals across the country in one strong voice in the fight to end gun violence. He continues his battle by bringing his personal and professional experiences to his work at the intersection of medicine, public health, and public policy on a daily basis. 

7. A Grateful Heart

Dr. Lara Johnson is no stranger to adversity. As a child, she was faced with relentless familial challenges that nearly prevented her from applying to college. With the moral and financial support of her high school teacher, Dr. Johnson was able to alter the course of her life. One of the conditions of this support was that she must pay it forward. Today Dr. Johnson works at Parkland Hospital as a primary care physician for the Transgender Clinic. She is also the medical director for Homeless Outreach Medical Services, serving the most vulnerable of Dallas’s population. In this role, she strives to connect with patients through stories, understand what has happened in their lives to get them where they are, and ensure that humanity remains at the center of health care.


9. ​Humanizing Surgery

A gynecologic oncologist at Northwell Health, Dr. Benjamin Schwartz has developed a unique way to engage the members of his surgical teams. Before each surgery, Dr. Schwartz asks his patient’s loved ones to send him an email describing the patient in a personal way. He then reads the email aloud to the surgical team before beginning the patient’s procedure. This practice serves to remind the surgical team of the patient’s humanity and individuality, and encourages each caregiver to connect more deeply with their work and their patient.

2. Bittersweet Harvest

As a transplant surgeon at the University of Michigan, Dr. Michael Englesbe has seen firsthand the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic in the United States. Determined to create lasting change in his region, Dr. Englesbe collaborated with fellow doctors to gain a better understanding of opioid use and prevent dependence on opioids after surgery. Through their research, Dr. Englesbe and his team have changed opioid prescribing practices for all surgeries performed at the University of Michigan.

4. A Burning Candle

On August 30, 1998, Dr. Babacar Cisse boarded an airplane for the first time in his life, and arrived in the United States from his native Senegal with only $26 in his pocket and an address that his cab driver didn’t recognize. The epitome of resilience and grit, he drew on his passion for science and medicine, earning both a medical degree and a doctoral degree from Columbia University and ultimately training in neurosurgery. Now a neurosurgeon and researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr. Cisse does not see burnout as becoming a problem for him—like a burning candle helps people see, he perseveres by knowing his work is creating light in his patients’ lives. 

6. Here to Help

“I will not give up on you.” That is the promise Dr. Merit Cudkowicz makes to her patients, giving them hope in the face of the unimaginable fear that accompanies an ALS diagnosis. The chief of neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a leading ALS researcher, Dr. Cudkowicz and her colleagues honor that commitment while also managing the stress and emotional weight of their clinical work.


8. ​Holistic Health

Understanding that each patient responds differently to a variety of treatments, Dr. Jay Poonkasem, a palliative care physician at BayCare Health System, finds joy in using multiple modalities to deliver holistic care. Dr. Poonkasem began his career as a licensed massage therapist and uses this experience as well as his certifications in medical acupuncture, integrative medicine, healing touch, and personal training to treat the whole patient. He connects with his patients by listening to their stories and uses this information to understand their unique needs and guide their treatment plans. Dr. Poonkasem intends to continue studying new modalities and gaining as much knowledge as possible so that he can help his patients using a wide variety of techniques.


10. ​Achieving Radical Quality

For Geisinger Health Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Justin Coffey, the definition of perfect depression care is Zero Suicides, and it’s a goal he has been committed to achieving since the beginning of his career. Upon completing his residency at the University of Michigan, Dr. Coffey joined a team of physicians at Henry Ford Health System who were aiming to conceptualize and develop a model for delivering perfect depression care. Today, he and the team work to spread the model across the country and around the world. While some have argued that setting the seemingly unattainable goal of achieving such radical quality goals will demoralize nurses and physicians, Dr. Coffey has found that believing in and committing to the conviction that perfection is possible reduces his feelings of burnout and keeps him focused, inspired, and grounded in his work.