American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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A devotion to patients that springs from gratitude

From the September ACP Hospitalist, copyright © 2009 by the American College of Physicians

By Jessica Berthold

Occupation: Hospitalist at Lourdes Hospital in Johnson City, N.Y.

Age: 51.

Suren Pathman, MD

Suren Pathman, MD



Current residence: Vestal, N.Y.

Hometown: Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

Family: Married with a son, age 13, and a daughter, age 10.

Medical school: North Colombo Medical College in Ragama, Sri Lanka.

Residency: A’pura Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Specialty: Obstetrics and gynecology.

Something I wished I’d learned in medical school: I went to a clinically oriented medical school in Sri Lanka, and we didn’t have the technology that we have in the U.S. So I had to catch up on the technology part of it when I came here, and that was difficult.

First job: I was a primary care doctor at Ira Davenport Memorial Hospital in Bath, N.Y.

I became a hospitalist because: I like inpatient management. It’s like being the captain of a ship, where you take on the great path of curing patients, and being responsible for their day-to-day management.

Most rewarding aspect of my job: Seeing my patients get better and better as the days go on.

Most meaningful professional accomplishment: Healing wounded souls; helping the sick to get better.

Future goals: To do more charity work here as well as abroad. I went to Sri Lanka (in 2004) to help with the tsunami for two weeks, and I’d like to do more work like that. There are a lot of people who are in need and are less fortunate.

Hardest medical lesson learned: There’s a lot of red tape to go through in order to be able to do the things that I want to do. If I want to work on disaster relief, like helping the Katrina victims, I can’t do it without having a license to practice in that state, for example.

Career advice for hospitalists coming out of residency: It’s a field that requires devotion. You have to have compassion toward the patient rather than be concerned about numbers and dollar signs. You need to have intense dedication, and to be passionate about curing patients and families both in the hospital and at the time of discharge. And you need to learn to deal with the policies of the hospital where you work, because they like to do things in certain ways. You also need to learn about time management, because you can get caught between the hospital demands and patient care.

Personal heroes: I admire President Obama. He came from a down-to-earth family, and he came a long way to achieve his success. It shows that there is always a way to do what you want to do. If you aim high, you can achieve, which is why this is the best country in the world.

Pet peeve: Having to work through the insurance agencies to write certain prescriptions for patients, but the insurance companies give you so much hardship. Also, the cost of prescriptions is so high sometimes that my patients cannot afford to take medicine for their chronic illnesses. Pharmaceutical companies are also to be blamed, because they influence doctors to write prescriptions by taking them to dinner and giving them free office supplies—all of which should be banned completely, in my opinion….These practices drive up the cost of medication and of patient care, as well.

Favorite ways to spend free time: I like to spend time with my family. I’ll take my children on a bike ride or for a walk.

Most recent books read: Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope.”

Most meaningful nonmedical accomplishment: Helping people who are poor and less fortunate, both financially and physically.

Most surprising thing about you: That I am here at all, practicing medicine in the United States. I am very fortunate to be here; I never expected to be here. My family was able to immigrate due to suffering going on back home, so we came over one by one. I came when I was 24.

If you weren’t a physician, you would be: I think it is such an honor, to be a doctor and to be able to take care of people. If I weren’t able to be a doctor I would be a social worker, so I could help people.

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