Patrick Gallagher ’83 | March 5, 2021
Physician, heal thyself!
Dominic Vachon would reject association with Jesus’ proverb in the Nazareth synagogue. In so many words, however, that was his wife M.J.’s reaction when he came home from his counseling job and announced, “I hate my patients!” He was burnt out, a bitter irony since he had dedicated the previous decade to helping caregivers avoid burnout.
That was three decades ago. Today, Vachon ’80, ’85M.Div., is the John G. Sheedy, M.D., Director of Notre Dame’s Ruth M. Hillebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine and the author of How Doctors Care: The Science of Compassion and Balanced Caring in Medicine. The position and the book were foreshadowed in M.J.’s actual response: “Your patients expect you to love them so you can help them.” Recovering that love for himself and helping other practitioners find it became his mission.
His younger brother Ovide’s three-year bout with cancer and death in 1983 also inspired him. The experience made him aware of the plight of patients and their families, as well as the spectrum of empathy from health-care providers — “people who were really wonderfully compassionate and people who were just checking the boxes waiting to go home.”
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