Professor of Surgery, Director of Research - Department of Surgery, Associate Program Director - General Surgery Residency, University of Florida College of Medicine, Jacksonville , Florida
It was 1994 and I was in my second year of medical school when I first learned of the Jim Slotnick Fellowship. His story was devastating; an intelligent, hard-working, and compassionate young man cut down by cancer at age 28. Facing the challenges of cancer, he wrote an incredibly insightful and compelling narrative, A Short Life: The Unexpurgated Memoirs of a Young Man with Cancer. It is heartbreaking and a must read to help understand end of life struggles and the importance of palliation.
Though I had lost friends to car crashes, drugs, and cancer, I had survived Detroit public schools and the social challenges of my socioeconomically depressed communities, I never really considered mortality in any kind of a personal way. And like most medical students, I had been blessed with the casual arrogance of good health and a supportive family. Reflecting on the life and legacy of Jim Slotnick and through service at the LA Free Clinic, I was able to understand the fragility, unfairness and capriciousness of good fortune. I helped provide care to homeless and low- income adults and teens, kids who’d been forced out of their homes for being gay; older adults who’d struggled for years with mental illness, living on the fringes of a society without safety nets; families struggling to stay together in the face of adversity. Their struggles were my struggles and I learned to channel my empathy into charitable care.
As an academic trauma surgeon, I care for patients and their families torn apart by violence and injury, and perform research and advocacy. Every day I practice and teach the lessons of compassion and empathy that were so strongly encouraged and modeled by Jim Slotnick and the amazing caregivers with whom I worked during the Fellowship.