I am the mother of two grown sons, Michael and Sam. I am the wife of David and I am a physician. These are the roles that are my primary definition. I am also, of course, the child of my parents, but they both died many years ago and though they live in my heart, I am no longer a child of anyone. I was born in Manhattan in 1946, the only girl in the entire nursery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. I grew up in Evanston, Illinois, the youngest of three having 2 older brothers. My family was close and happy until my father’s sudden death when I was 15. I would say that has been the defining event of my life. We moved back to Manhattan after his death. I met my husband David during my freshman year at The University of Pennsylvania and we married during our senior year, both of us, I think, searching to rebuild a family. I taught first, second and third grade in a small elementary school outside Philadelphia for 5 years. It was during that time that I realized I wanted to go to medical school and, having majored in Art History, began the process of taking all the pre med courses at night while I continued teaching. David, who had gotten a masters degree in urban education had by this time begun working with troubled youths and this ultimately led him to his career in psychology. David would define our career choices as “Kate is saving a dead father and I am saving a dead mother,” his mother having committed suicide as a result of deep depression and alcoholism when he was 19. I entered The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1974 and after graduation in 1978, went to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for a residency in primary care medicine. I have been there ever since. Michael was born during my senior year of medical school and Sam after I finished my residency.
For the early part of my career I primarily took care of my patients and developed a busy internal medicine practice at MGH. I also did some teaching on a limited scale. I struggled with the demands of my practice and trying to be a present mom to my sons. Eventually I made a very conscious decision that I would not try to climb an academic ladder. I would do what I loved, which was taking care of patients and would not try to take on more responsibility. I was able to work out a part time schedule by cross covering with another woman. It allowed me to be home on Mondays and Thurs afternoons and made a huge difference in my life and that of my family. Eventually I was asked to co-direct a course on physical examination for second year medical students at Harvard Medical School which I have continued for the past 19 years. Over time, that became the entry into several other teaching opportunities. In 2004 I was asked to design a two week course for all incoming medical students called Introduction to the Profession to help students understand the context of the world they were entering and to make it clear that the next four years would demand not only intellectual development but emotional, professional and moral development, that successful doctors are not only medically knowledgeable but also emotionally present and compassionate. Aside from my family and my patients, it has been one of my most cherished life accomplishments.
My work with patients has given me a richness of human connection that has been deeply rewarding to me. I have worked with and come to know patients of many backgrounds and situations, over my professional life ranging in age my youngest13 to my oldest at 108, patients who are homeless and those with extraordinary means. I have learned over and over again that grace and dignity and courage do not reside in any one group. I have been blessed to be allowed to enter my patient’s lives and to both treat their diseases as well as offer comfort when there is nothing left to give. My patients have taught me a great deal – making both my failures and my successes clear, making me examine my behavior over and over again and I believe, ultimately helping me to be a better person. I am deeply grateful. My work with students in the beginning re-energized me. Their enthusiasm and idealism reminded me of why I wanted to be a doctor. In trying to teach them the values I held dear, it made me examine the doctor I was and I hope has made me a better doctor.
My sons remain a source of great joy and deep comfort. They bring a smile deep in my heart. David and I have now been married for 42 years. He remains my closest friend, my advisor, my refuge and my dearest love.