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Surgical oncologist Roger Christian, MD, FACS, clinical director of the Comprehensive Breast Health Center, has the unique ability to make a person feel he or she is his top concern, even though he might have on his mind several patients, colleagues and students every day.
Just last week, a young woman who came in with a lump in her breast immediately became Christian’s priority when Karen Flaherty, MSN, APRN-BC, nurse coordinator of the center, who was caring for the patient, sought his guidance. Without hesitating, Christian took the time to meet with Flaherty and the patient and review the plan for her ongoing treatment.
Christian, who began as a General Surgery resident at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1966, has demonstrated this kind of dedication for 40 years at BWH. Next month, he will be recognized with the first Thomson Long-Term Achievement Award, named in honor of the late Dennis Thomson, vice president of Public Affairs from 1991 to 1998.
“In 40 years of dedicated service to the hospital, Roger has embodied the values of character, commitment, competency and care for others,” Surgeon-in-Chief Michael Zinner, MD, said. “His grace and generosity make BWH a better place for patients, physicians, employees and students each day.”
Colleagues and patients alike praise Christian’s gentle manner with patients. A typical patient appointment with Christian might begin with a short conversation about the Red Sox or something he can connect with a patient about before discussing health.
“I try to allay my patients’ fears by finding something we have in common and connecting with them on a personal level,” he said. “Exposing that human element is crucial when trying to make patients feel comfortable.”
Jane Kelly recalled the attentiveness with which Christian treated her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. “Days after my biopsy, he called me several times to keep me informed about what was happening,” she said. “Not only is he a competent surgeon, he is one of the kindest people I know.”
By setting such a powerful example, Christian is a natural at teaching others. He previously offered a course that let medical students shadow him for a month and directed the core clerkship in Surgery at BWH for 17 years.
“Roger taught me to approach every patient with dignity and compassion,” said Nawal Nour, MD, MPH, director of the African Women’s Health Center and Obstetric Resident Practice, a former Thomson Leadership winner herself, who shadowed Christian during a General Surgery rotation as a third year medical student. “Throughout my education and career, I’ve come to him with my concerns and aspirations, and I am where I am today thanks to his unconditional support.”
Lori Tishler, MD, now a primary care doctor in BIMA, had a similar experience when Christian was a faculty advisor of her “Doctor-Patient” group, which teaches third-year medical students the importance of connecting emotionally with patients. “Dr. Christian taught me much about the doctoring part of being a doctor,” Tishler said.
Esther Rhei, MD, of Surgical Oncology, has worked with Christian for eight years and learns from him daily. “Roger truly cares about treating people in a compassionate and dignified way, and I see this working alongside him every day,” she said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to entrust him to care for any of my family members.”
Join the BWH community in honoring Roger Christian at the eighth annual Thomson Leadership and Compassionate Care Scholarship Award Ceremony, March 28, at 4 p.m., in the Bornstein Amphitheater.