Generous Patient Enables Research
Jerry Smetana, MD, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, recently received a gift from a former patient that left him breathless.
A letter arrived with a single, short paragraph informing Smetana that Harvey Picker had left him $1 million to be used for his tireless work authoring systematic and clinical reviews.
Picker, a physicist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, died in March 2008. His relationship with BIDMC began in 1987 when he and Tom Delbanco, MD, built the Picker Institute, a non-profit dedicated to promoting patient-centered care. Picker later asked Delbanco to recommend a primary care physician and Delbanco referred him to Smetana.
As their doctor-patient relationship developed, Picker began to take a personal interest in Smetana's research. "Some people just ask to be polite, but I could tell he was curious about my work," Smetana said. "I began to share my papers with him and tell him about new projects. Since my work focused on training clinicians to provide better patient care, it related to his work at the Picker Institute."
Smetana is an international leader in the field of perioperative medicine as well as an accomplished scholar in systematic reviews. He advocates that physicians hone their clinical judgment and learn to enjoy talking with their patients about their stories when formulating a diagnosis versus relying solely on test results and technology.
Picker asked how Smetana found the time to see patients and conduct his research. Smetana said his reviews were a labor of love, often done at night and on the weekends due to the amount of time involved and the lack of funding. His candid response inspired Picker to make a financial donation to ensure Smetana had a dedicated amount of time during the day to work on his research.
"The contribution was to last three to four years," Smetana said. "I began sending Harvey copies of all of my work. He became more than a patient. He was a role model."
Picker made a second gift once the first ran out. When Picker died last spring, Smetana began to wonder what would become of his work.
"I was at a point where I needed to either find more funding or scale back on my scholarly work," Smetana said. "To then receive word of this support, I had an unbelievable sense of being humbled and honored. Now I don't have to worry about funding and I can take on projects based on their merit without worrying about the cost or time involved."
Smetana will use the money to continue his research and also to create the Harvey Picker Fellowship in Evidence Based Medicine at BIDMC. The annual fellowship will be open to a junior faculty member in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care to conduct systematic reviews of a clinical topic. Smetana is in the process of putting together the selection committee and hopes to identify the first fellow this year.
"When Harvey passed away, it never occurred to me that he would remember me like this," Smetana said. "I was completely surprised."