This Doctor Wants to Make Medicine More Compassionate

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Meet Naomi Rosenberg, one of our 2020 Health Hero semi-finalists.


Naomi Rosenberg is one of our 2020 Health Hero semi-finalists. | Photo provided, design by Meredith Getzfread.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with our semi-finalists in the 2020 Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge brought to you by Independence Blue Cross to give you a glimpse of the people who are helping Philadelphians live healthier lives. Vote to help decide which of these 10 semi-finalists become one of three finalists in the running to be our 2020 Health Hero — and get a sizable donation to a charity of their choice — here. Remember, you can vote once a day until October 1st!

Name: Naomi Rosenberg, MD, Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Nonprofit of choice: Mighty Writers. At Mighty Writers, more than 3,000 kids learn to think clearly and write with clarity every year. The program has been running since 2009. All of their programs are free to the children they serve, and since the coronavirus crisis, they have expanded a Food and Literacy Distribution Program in order to provide food for kids. “At Temple we have started a new program in Narrative Medicine to help young doctors and others on the healthcare team more deeply understand stories of sickness, healing, injury and of health,” Rosenberg explains, “I am anxious for young doctors to have more exposure to this work that I wish had been a part of my medical education. Patients need doctors who are better at listening. I think we have a way to teach it more effectively. Mighty Writers is currently doing critical work keeping young kids reading and writing during a time of deep isolation.”

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What motivates you to try and make Philadelphia a healthier place?

I went to school at University of Pennsylvania and trained in emergency medicine at Temple University Hospital. Philadelphians have taught me how to be a doctor. I have much to give back to them. Doctors often live where they work and work where they live. It allows us to know what impacts our patients. Living in the city and staying close, geographically, to the patients I help take care of has been important to me. Caring about what happens to the people around me and fighting for the wellness of others — friends or strangers — has been ingrained in me from a young age.

Describe a health or fitness related turning point in your life.

There are countless moments when, by paying close attention, I learned something that would change my life. When I was young, I spent time with my father on weekends accompanying him to the National Institute of Health where he worked to find a cure for cancer. When very young I would sit at the desk in his office and color while he went to see patients. As a teenager I was sometimes allowed to go into the room with him. I was nervous but saw how he always slowed down his walk and also seemed calm. “When you walk into a patient’s room you never rush and you always smile gently,” he would tell me. “If the plane was bumpy and the pilot came out of the cockpit looking worried how would you feel?”

I knew they were dying; I had heard about it all my life. The first woman I can remember was standing re-arranging some pots on the windowsill of her hospital room. We often caught families unaware as we entered; on a Saturday afternoon long after morning rounds were done they would be expecting a nurse and not the head of the department. If they hadn’t heard us knock there were a few seconds before they saw us. I saw a young couple lounging together in the hospital bed watching a movie. I saw another couple, married many years, bickering gently then open into large smiles after what I imagined to be a husband’s failsafe tease to break the mood. I saw a teenager in bed with a soccer ball, photos of his classmates and teammates plastering  the walls to keep him cheerful when he was sick in bed.

I saw, for the first time, acts I would later know well when I became a doctor — families holding up a cup of water for a patient whose hands trembled, or repositioning a pillow to ease physical pain — acts of comfort. And there we were. My dad never brought official news, always just seeming to be “stopping by” and offering encouragement. “You’re doing well,” He would say. “The cells are fighting the cancer.” “The cough is normal.” “Can you get up for a short walk today?” “Try to get some rest.”

I learned what it would mean to be a great doctor. So much more than knowing anatomy, placing a chest tube or reading an x-ray. That technical competence is critical — but it would be years before I would understand fully what it meant to have your doctor come in to see you on weekends when it was not his day on call. It would be years before I understood what it meant to care for patients the way my father does. I am very lucky to have had that childhood.

What policy would you institute to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region?

For the health of an area, any area, it is critical that all people have access to high-quality, affordable, and compassionate health care. This is not only the most humane system for America and its cities but also, ultimately, the most cost-effective.

What’s the most important part of your health or wellness regimen?

Reading. Books have given me friendship, company, peace, laughter, education, hope, and deep gratitude for as long as I can remember being alive.

What is your number one piece of health-related advice?

No matter what the “impossible” obstacle is in improving your health, someone has done it before you and can help you. I cannot stress enough the value of finding a mentor, friend, nurse, doctor, social worker — someone who well understands what you are going through. Lean on them for guidance and support. And once you are through it, you can help someone else.

Check out all the Health Hero semi-finalists, and remember to vote HERE now. (Remember, you can vote once a day until October 1st!) Stay in touch with @bewellphilly and @phillymagevents and be sure to follow the challenge using #BWPHealthHero!

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