TEDMED speaker considers herself a ‘physician on a mission’

When asked how to deal with one of the most troubling health care crises today, Pamela Wible says, ‘The solution is almost entirely spiritual.’

Pamela Wible / Courtesy Photo

PETALUMA, CA, Nov. 27, 2016 – To hear Pamela Wible tell the story, her shift from being a doctor in the doldrums to a “physician on a mission” happened pretty quickly.

“I was in bed for six weeks in a self-induced coma,” recounted Wible during an interview at the 2015 TEDMED conference in Palm Springs. “I wanted to just die in my sleep. The problem was, I was a healthy, 35-year-old vegetarian woman who was very unlikely to die in my sleep.”

Like all too many physicians these days, Wible had found herself living a life very different from the one she’d imagined in medical school, having little if any impact on the patients who came to her for help and growing increasingly depressed.

“I tried six jobs over 10 years and they all felt like assembly-line medicine,” said Wible. [I found myself] cutting my patients off after 15 minutes when they really needed 60, not solving their problems, just putting Band-aids on them and saying, ‘come back later.’”

“I really just wanted to pass on.”

It was then that a “bomb” went off in Wible’s head.

Related: Why Doctors Should Care About Their Patients’ Spirituality

“I literally woke up and had a clear vision of people coming together and designing their own clinics and hospitals,” Wible continued. “I jumped out of bed and called the newspaper and told them that I’m going to hold a series of town hall meetings and let the community design their own clinic.”

Which is exactly what she did.

“I was like, ‘Look, I’m a family doctor. You guys need medical care. You tell me your most creative, most off-the-wall ideas.”

“And what do you think they wanted?” she asked rhetorically. “They wanted me. They wanted me to just be present. In simplest terms what they wanted is to feel like, and this is a direct quote, ‘I want to feel like I’m sitting in the living room with my best friend who happens to be my doctor.’”

With this in mind, Wible decided to open her own clinic, shifting the emphasis from the all-too-familiar high-tech, low-touch methods employed in most clinics and hospitals to a decidedly low-tech, high-touch approach that continues to serve her patients well, most of whom, Wible discovered, simply want to feel loved.

Ironically, even though she now spends more time than ever with her patients, Wible feels rejuvenated. “I love what I do. I love my patients,” she said. “This whole thing fuels me.”

While for some such a notion may seem implausible, it is by no means impossible. “A generous person will prosper,” we’re reminded in the Book of Proverbs (11:25 NIV), “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” A welcome bit of encouragement, to be sure, perhaps especially for those working in the field of health care.

“It is proverbial that Florence Nightingale and other philanthropists engaged in humane labors have been able to undergo without sinking fatigues and exposures which ordinary people could not endure,” notes Mary Baker Eddy, a health care maverick in her own right, in her book Science and Health. “The explanation lies in the support which they derived from the divine law, rising above the human. The spiritual demand, quelling the material, supplies energy and endurance surpassing all other aids, and forestalls the penalty which our beliefs would attach to our best deeds.”

The good news is that Wible’s own “best deeds” extend far beyond the work she does for her patients to include her fellow physicians as well, too many who have succumbed to the pressures of their work and ended up taking their lives. It’s this crisis that has turned Wible into, in her words, a “physician on a mission.”

Related: Love the Key to Defeating Teen Suicide

“Over a million patients a year in America lose their doctors to suicide,” she said, which translates to over 400 doctors, or the average population of an entire medical school. “That’s not even including at least 150 medical students per year that we lose.”

When asked what the answer might be, Wible was quick to respond:

“The solution is almost entirely spiritual,” she said, “If you don’t have meaning and spiritual purpose to your life, or some spiritual direction, you’re just going through the motions.”

For her part, Wible spends countless hours answering phone calls, responding to letters and emails, and meeting personally with troubled physicians, many of whom have either considered or are on the verge of committing suicide. She also speaks at conferences, holds physician retreats, and has written a bestselling book, Physician Suicide Letters Answered, published earlier this month.

Most impressive, however, is the compassion that underlies Wible’s efforts. Whether she’s treating a patient or helping to alleviate the fears of one a fellow doctor, it’s this “divine law, rising above the human” that Eddy refers to that one could argue has enabled her to be so successful, all the while maintaining a sense of purpose and joy – in a word, a sense of spirituality.

Eric Nelson writes about the link between consciousness and health from his perspective as a practitioner of Christian Science. He also serves as the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Science in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter @norcalcs. This column originally ran in January of this year.

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