McIntosh learns from patients, follows their stories
By Mary Jane Gore
Paul M. McIntosh sets his course to the triumphs and tribulations of others. “I like being able to follow people’s life stories,” said the 2005 School of Medicine graduate.
Between his classes and various responsibilities during his first and second year of medical school, McIntosh volunteered for the SMILE
Program (Students Making It a Little Easier) where he worked with two children who were terminally ill with cancer.
His reasons for joining SMILE tell a great deal about McIntosh. “I was afraid of how I might act around young patients who are dying. When you see patients in your third and fourth years, you only spend a brief time in each rotation, and generally you don’t have that much contact with dying people,” he noted. Jumping into his fear was the best way to deal with it. “I learned an incredible amount from each of these children about patience and bravery,” he said.
“One child often had no one to be with him during the week,” McIntosh said.
“The family lived far from here and had other children to care for. The child was in the hospital for one to two months at a time, so I would visit him, read or watch a movie in the room with him.”
While McIntosh was on a spring break, one of his SMILE children died. “I came back, and he simply wasn’t there,” he said. “I dealt with the loss by talking to classmates — and especially talking to my wife about it. In turn, I was prepared to help visit and listen when my wife’s friend lost a
McIntosh’s willingness to assist others helped him to rise to the top of his class of 140 students. He served as president of his medical school class for the past three years, and was the recipient of the 2005 U.Va. Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.
The award goes to an individual who demonstrates respect, empathy, listening skills, cooperation, concern and scientific proficiency, among other attributes. “Anyone in my class could have won,” McIntosh said.
“We vote for one individual at the end of our third year. I was honored to be chosen.”
Marcia Day Childress, who co-directs Humanities in Medicine, the program that coordinates the $1,000 award, shared a few more items McIntosh omitted in his interview for this article: during medical school he earned a School of Medicine Admissions Committee Scholarship, the Dean Robert Carey Award, the Pathology Skeleton Award, and election to the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society and the Raven Society.
As an undergraduate at U.Va., McIntosh majored in chemistry with a specialty in biochemistry. He knew by his fourth year that he wanted to be a family physician, and applied to be a generalist scholar in U.Va.’s School of Medicine. This primary care program sent him and 10 other selected classmates to medical school three weeks early to do some
coursework and shadow doctors as they saw patients.
The scholar program was designed to create leaders in the field of
primary care and to encourage the scholars to tell other medical students about their experiences, McIntosh said. He presented the fruits of a four-year generalist research project just before his graduation; his topic is how pediatric residents rate their comfort with adolescent patients when taking their histories and examining them to determine their sexual health.
Beyond the demands of studying and patient care, McIntosh has made time to cultivate many friendships among students and patients and to develop a personal relationship with a physical therapist who became his wife last fall.
“I’m going to write a book called ‘How to Get Married in Three Days,’” he joked. The wedding was set for Nov. 13, but was moved up to Oct. 16 when Sarah’s father was diagnosed with a condition that needed immediate surgery. “He’s done very well, but we didn’t know at the time how he would do, and we wanted him to be a part of the wedding before
his emergency surgery,” McIntosh said.
Even with his busy schedule, McIntosh and Sarah, also a U.Va. graduate, were able to contact all of the wedding providers and figure out — in three days — a way to have the wedding sooner.
McIntosh also forged new friendships when he nurtured a new talent. Previously only a shower singer, McIntosh joined the Spinal Chords, a medical school singing group, and has visited patients, delivered singing valentines around the Medical Center, and performed at the U.Va. Children’s Hospital telethon as well as other charity events.
McIntosh said what he liked most during his four years in medical school were the great people he met. “For me, medical school was like high school all over again, with a spring and fall dance, and all of these personalities to get to know,” he said. Overall, the School of Medicine offered him a warm and patient-focused environment for medical practice, and also a very welcoming and supportive place for medical
students, McIntosh said.
When he enters a pediatric residency at Johns Hopkins University this fall, three other classmates will join him there. He plans to travel around the country to visit others. He and his wife will live in South Baltimore, near the bustle of Fells Point regulars and Inner Harbor tourists.
McIntosh is looking forward to the daily work of patient care, and ultimately of practicing pediatrics, so he “can keep following a patient’s
stories, from birth until adulthood, or even longer, if I’m lucky.”