College Master finds satisfaction in focusing on others

An academic internist describes in her own words her reasons for becoming an internist, and what she'd do if she hadn't become one in the first place.

Ruth-Marie (Rhee) Fincher, MD, MACP

Portrait courtesy of Ruth-Marie Rhee Fincher MD MACP
Portrait courtesy of Ruth-Marie (Rhee) Fincher, MD, MACP.

Occupation: Professor emerita and vice dean for academic affairs emeritus, Georgia Health Sciences University at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.

Current residence: Augusta, Ga.

Hometown: Wethersfield, Conn.

Family: Married for 35 years.

Medical school: First two years at Dartmouth College, second two years at Emory University.

Residency: Emory University, Atlanta.

I became an internist because: I decided to be an internist during my second rotation in my third year of medical school. The residents and attendings on that rotation were the kind of doctors I wanted to be. They were smart, good thinkers, loved what they did, loved their patients. I saw their relationships with patients and I wanted to be like them.

Something I wish I'd learned in medical school: A balance of inpatient and outpatient experience with more emphasis on health and wellness, and preventive public health. I wish I had learned earlier to think across disciplines in an integrated, patient-based way. And finally, learning to communicate effectively with patients and meet them where they are. Your beliefs and background are often not aligned with theirs, resulting in their reacting differently to recommendations for diagnosis and treatment than you might expect. If I had learned sooner that you have to start where the patient is, I would have avoided some early miscommunications.

First job: I worked as a camp counselor for summers from late high school through college. It was an enormous amount of fun. I loved camping. It also taught me a whole lot about interpersonal relationships and leadership.

How I found myself in medical education: I worked for two years at the VA hospital in Tacoma, Wash. My first chance to teach was through students and residents from the University of Washington. When I joined the faculty at the Medical College of Georgia, I requested and was granted the opportunity to become director of the medicine clerkship and the physical diagnosis course. My passion for medical education unfolded from there.

Most rewarding aspect of my job: What I love the most is helping people—caring for patients and guiding medical students, faculty, and others to gain the skills to do what they really want to do. When my career focus changed from being about me to being about other people, I found an enormous amount of satisfaction.

Most meaningful professional accomplishment: The privilege of working with and impacting the education of 5,000 medical students at Medical College of Georgia. Then establishing the Clerkship Directors in Internal Medicine (CDIM). CDIM facilitated the career development of clerkship directors and improved the quality of clerkships, in addition to fostering valuable interpersonal relationships. Also, developing the Educational Innovation Institute at Georgia Health Sciences University, [a center that] fosters faculty development and educational scholarship as well as research and innovation.

Most meaningful non-medical accomplishment: I've had a happy, blessed marriage for 35 years.

Advice for medical students: It is a privilege to be a physician and you should join the profession only if you are truly committed to service to others. Medical school is like a marathon, not a sprint. Seek and accept advice and mentors, pace yourself for the “long run,” care for yourself so you can care for others.

Hardest medical lesson learned: Balancing time as there never seems to be enough.

Personal heroes: Sir Ernest Shackleton, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Marie Curie, Father Charles Hughes.

Pet peeves: Meetings that start late (without good reason).

Favorite author or poet: James Michener, Ernest Hemingway.

Most recent book read: Three concurrently: “Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy” by Frances Mayes; “Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy” by John Julius Norwich; and “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” by Liz Wiseman.

Future goals: Continue to be involved with medical education at a national level. I'm on the board of the Association of American Medical Colleges and involved with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the National Board of Medical Examiners.

Favorite ways to spend my free time: I'm an avid gardener and woodworker. I just finished an end table and am currently working on a cabinet display case.

Biggest regret: I've been the centerpiece for recognition and accolades, but the truth is I've never done anything by myself. The accomplishment is never just me and I'd like to recognize the other people involved.

If I weren't a physician, I would be: A professor in a biology-related discipline.