Reflections on Medicine

Sylvia Morris (M’98), Internist in Atlanta, Georgia

I’m from Los Angeles, California. Medicine is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. My mother was the first nurse in my family. I’m the first doctor.

photo of a medical bag

I was a second year in medical school, back home in LA for Thanksgiving, when my mother died. I’m an only child, and my Georgetown friends became my family. After the funeral, they picked me up from the airport, made me food, helped me focus.

Internists are the smartest. (All the internists will read that and say, yeah we are.) Internists are the chronic disease people, old school diagnosticians—like Dr. Knowlan or Dr. Mitchell, who can look at a patient and say, Oh your thyroid is probably off. They’re present with the patients, thinking and listening to what they’re saying. The fund of knowledge is broad and the clinical acumen is high. It’s a thinking specialty.

I’m a bit of a talker. I’m better in communicating than that fine motor movement needed in surgery. I’m not huge on procedures. I’d rather come in the room, have a conversation with you, and assess how you are.

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I like when patients share their stories. You learn from your patients. When I wasn’t practicing, that’s something I missed. After practicing for many years, I took a break. Sometimes you need that. You work so long to achieve this, and when it doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s hard.

I worked in health care IT doing sales and informatics. It was good to see medicine from another point of view. I then returned to practice for eight more years, working nights at Emory as a hospitalist.

I left practice again to work in consulting in DC. I learned about the business of medicine— billing, coding, reimbursement. Last year I returned to Atlanta to practice medicine. It’s a privilege to be a physician, in these intimate interactions with people. It’s remarkable what people tell you. And their resilience. There’s not a day when I don’t laugh with a patient.

I’ve done many other things, but the grass is not greener. It’s just grass. You have to choose your own happiness and figure out what that looks like.

image of a head of cabbage

I’m board certified in holistic medicine. That got me thinking about how we impact health, about obesity and plant based diets, and how to have a conversation about exercise when the patient is working two jobs. You meet people where they are.

In today’s millennial culture, we think more about how to have fuller lives. In my mother’s generation you went to school and you got a job. Who cares about being happy? You got a roof over your head! Now we think more about the complete person, the cura personalis. And that’s a good thing.

image of gold ladies shoes

I like traveling—my Georgetown friends and I do an annual girls trip. And I like shoes. I buy comfortable shoes that are pretty. My girlfriends tease me about my shoe budget, but I wear a size 11. I have to pay full price because the selection is limited!

I was lucky to have mentors who modeled compassion. It’s important to nurture the relationships with our colleagues, get to know each other, and break bread together.

I had a COPD patient on oxygen who continued to smoke, was readmitted multiple times with shortness of breath. It was frustrating for me. But in his care, I missed the mark, by not figuring out how to help him in his suffering. Patients who are “noncompliant” need our compassion.

At the bedside I try to be present with spirit and mind, and be tech-free. I take pen and paper, sit with my patients and ask, “How are you?”

artistic image green grass