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The Personal Touch

A Mother's Example Put into Practice


Gaea Moore and her mother, Connie Swanson, in 1990 when Gaea was 12 and Swanson was 39.
By Gaea Moore, MD

(November 2013) One of the things I love about my work in obstetrics is that I see my mom through my everyday life.

My mom was a teacher before she decided to pursue medicine. In my role as an obstetric fellow, I get to teach residents and medical students everything from basic knowledge, such as how to identify risk factors for premature rupture of membranes, to more complicated skills, such as performing cesarean sections.

Most importantly, I get to practice good medicine and, in doing so, teach by example.

I’m not in every room for every encounter with the patients in our care, but I hope through creating a space where my residents and students feel respected and valued, that our interactions will translate into a pattern of respect and professionalism with every patient.

When I walk into a patient’s room on the labor and delivery floor with residents and students, the room often is full of worried people. We always refer to the patient by name and ask her to introduce us to her family and friends. That gesture is one of the first ways we show patients that we are on the same team, that we care about who they are and what happens to their pregnancy.

It reminds me of the way my mom would greet people. I remember once ordering fast food with her; my mom recognized the cashier’s accent and asked if she was Russian. The cashier’s glazed-over eyes suddenly came to life. She smiled and told us, in Russian, to have a nice day.

In obstetrics we often share the happiest moments in families’ lives. Sometimes, we share the most tragic.

It has become my habit to tell patients—whether before I perform a routine anatomy ultrasound or place a transducer on the abdomen of a woman who has not felt fetal movement for days — that whatever happens, I will be there for them.

When my first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, those were words I needed to hear, and they ring true for others. I couldn’t know at the time that having a miscarriage would help my medical practice. I now can look a patient in the eyes and say, “I’ve been there. It takes time, but you will get through this.”

I love taking care of patients. I really try to practice in a way that my mom would be proud of. That means taking time to use the translator phone with non-English speaking patients when I’m really rushed for time. It means asking, “What questions do you have?” rather than “Do you have any questions?” It means validating patients’ concerns and say-ing “I know you know your body better than any of us.”

It means spending extra time at a patient’s bedside asking about the gender of her baby, or whether she has special wishes for her delivery.

It means respecting the wishes of my patient with a lethal fetal anomaly, however she decides to manage her pregnancy. It means considering the life circumstances that make my patients who they are and making an effort to understand their medical beliefs.

My mom’s time was cut short. She didn’t have the opportunity to practice medicine before she became sick herself, so I take every opportunity to practice medicine in a way that I imagine she would have — with compassion, inquiry, kindness and empathy.

I hope that I can teach these values to my residents and students as well.

Moore is a fellow in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine. This essay was written as part of Moore’s application to be a member of the School of Medicine’s resident chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society; residents and fellows were asked to write an essay about what humanism means to them. This year, 47 residents and fellows at the University of Colorado School of Medicine were inducted into the chapter.