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Vital Signs

Clinical Observation

In this section, we highlight the human side of clinical academic medicine, putting a few questions to a physician at DMS-DHMC.

Patricia Glowa, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Community and Family Medicine

Glowa, who's been at Dartmouth since 1995, was named Family Physician of the Year in 2005 by the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians. She specializes in women's and children's health and child sexual-abuse evaluations.

How did you decide to become a doctor?
After leaving school halfway through my bachelor's in English, I was working in New York and got the flu—genuine, sick-for-a-week flu. I found myself thinking about medicine. I had always enjoyed science and math and wanted to be in a helping profession, but it had never crossed my mind before to consider medicine—which I think was part of the gender legacy at the time.

When did you choose family medicine?
When I was at Harvard Medical School—which is the farthest thing from a proponent of family medicine one can imagine. My image of medicine was my family doctor from childhood in Springfield, Vt. When I spent a rotation with a family doc in Gardner, Mass., it became clear that was what I wanted to do. And when I went to Rochester, N.Y., for residency, the program director was my childhood family doctor!

Are there any misconceptions that you find people have about family medicine?
Primary care, and family medicine in particular, tend to be at the bottom of the medical hierarchy in terms of respect. In family medicine, you have to stay competent with a very wide variety of medical issues. There are some particular skills required in family medicine, such as learning your limits, coping with uncertainty, and navigating the boundaries of almost all the specialties. It is a complex job. I think a lot of other folks in medicine don't quite get some of the complexities and so don't give us credit for what we do.

What advice would you give to a medical student who is considering family medicine?
Figure out if you enjoy a good deal of what family docs do. If there are a variety of things you enjoy that only partially mesh with another field, maybe you want to be a family doc.

What have been the most fulfilling aspects of your career?
I love obstetrics. Obstetricians take care of people during pregnancy and delivery, and pediatricians pick up the babies afterwards; I get to do both. I also enjoy some things nobody else likes to do, such as child sexual-abuse evaluations. It's high emotional intensity and has high potential for burnout, but I really enjoy being able to do that work—helping kids have nontraumatic exams after they have been in terrible circumstances and advocating for child health.

How do you avoid getting burned out on that work?
Because it's only a part of what I do.

What about you do you think would surprise most people?
I'm a mildly obsessed amateur potter. And, as Garrison Keillor puts it, I am a recovering shy person. I don't present as being particularly reserved, but I'm pretty introverted really.

What bores you?
I don't do things that are boring. I don't have time. I can't remember being bored in a very, very long time.

Not even doing paperwork?
Oh, that's aggravating. That's not boring. It's got to be done. I plow my way through it. Most of it requires some thought process.

Is there a famous person, living or dead, whom you would like to meet or spend a day with?
Probably one or more of the early suffragists.

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