What’s in my white coat?

“My lucky stethoscope!” laughs Michelle Roett, MD, MPH (M’03), chair of the department of family medicine at Georgetown.

After misplacing her first two stethoscopes that she had diligently labeled with her name and cell phone number in medical school, this one she has kept for 14 years—without a label.

Today Roett’s pockets are much lighter than they were as a student or in her early years of practice. “When I was in medical school our pockets were laden down with calipers, eye charts, and reference books,” she notes. “Eventually the books were replaced with devices. I had a Palm Pilot at first. My smartphone has most of the information now. Students might still carry otoscopes or ophthalmoscopes, and tuning forks. I do too if the need arises.”

photo of stethoscope, pen, cell phone, and tissuesAnd the tissues? “Sometimes when my patients cry, I cry with them. Sometimes everyone on the team is affected by the story a patient tells us: domestic violence, losing housing or a job, losing a loved one, end-stage cancer. You go through a lot of heartbreak with your patients—and of course joy too. I’ve celebrated my younger patients’ milestones, such as being a first generation college student. In my opinion, the most joyful event you can be a part of is delivering a baby—nothing tops that.”

Roett’s background in psychology and public health drew her to family medicine, where she could follow her interest in working in underserved communities, patient communication, and health disparities.

Recently appointed chair of family medicine, Roett remembers a meeting she had as a medical student with then-chair Jay Siwek, MD (C’71, M’76), to learn more about the field. “He asked me about my 5-, 10-, and 15-year plan. I told him I wanted to teach, see patients, deliver babies, publish research, and work on community-based projects. A little surprised, he asked me how I would do all of these things, and I told him I’d like to have his job. He has been in my corner every step of the way.”

Another supporter is Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, MBA, Dean for Medical Education. “I have a not-so-secret mission to increase primary care presence on campus,” Roett says, “and open students’ eyes to both community engagement and being the doc who does full-spectrum care. Dean Mitchell always says, ‘Yes! What can I do to help?’ Inspiring mentors in the GUMC department of family medicine and tremendous support from my parents and medical school family made it possible to reach this destination.”


Have a story to share about what you carry in your white coat? Contact us at georgetownmedicinemagazine@georgetown.edu.