You wouldn’t be surprised if your cardiologist did an EKG to examine your heart. But what if the doctor asked how you anticipated your death, or what you might want to share with others before you died?
Those are the kinds of questions that Dr. Elizabeth Glazier asks of her elderly patients on a regular basis. A geriatrician, Elizabeth, who was just named a 2017 Health Care Hero by the San Antonio Business Journal, started the palliative care program for WellMed in 2013 (in San Antonio, Texas) with the goal of finding a better way to care for the sick-est of the sick. She began by consulting in one clinic, by herself, even doing house calls, and now oversees a team of doctors, nurses, social workers and administrators. The program has expanded to eight other cities in Texas and Florida.
How did Elizabeth come to be an innovative and compassionate doctor for patients and their families facing life limiting diagnosis? Elizabeth remembers that her mother was always involved in the Jewish community and that giving back was of paramount importance. When Elizabeth was a teenager, her grandmother moved in with the family and she saw how doctors dismissed her. There had to be a better way to deal with patients with greater dignity and respect.
“I also love the stories older people tell. It’s important to listen to what they tell us. I am always learning from my patients.”
Today, Elizabeth is a member of Congregation Agudas Achim sisterhood, in San Antonio. She grew up in Newton Centre (outside Boston) where her family were second generation members of Temple Emanuel. Her mother, Renée, was active in New England Branch and today is a member of the Women’s League board. The family was always involved in the shul and Elizabeth even gave the Hebrew valedictory speech at the religious school graduation. She went on to study at the Prozdor high school program at Boston’s Hebrew College.
San Antonio has a vibrant Jewish community and one can regularly find Elizabeth and her family in a different synagogue or community center. Even though life in Texas is very different than life in a Boston suburb with a substantial Jewish population, Elizabeth and her family are committed to a fully Jewish life. Growing up, no matter what else might be going on, Shabbat dinner was mandatory. Elizabeth, her husband, Michael, a private gastroenterologist, and their three sons continue that tradition. “We spend Friday nights with our Jewish friends so that the kids can have as much social time with other Jewish kids as possible.” Renée, who now lives in San Antonio, is often there so she gets to meet her daughter’s family’s friends. Renée is particularly impressed that Elizabeth extends her curiosity about the well-being of others when she asks everyone at the table to describe three special things that happened during the week.
That Jewish sensibility also infuses her professional life as she helps patients and their families grapple with making difficult choices. Just because the ability to artificially extend life exists doesn’t mean utilizing those options is in everyone’s best interests. Elizabeth first wants to understand what is important to her patients and how they would like to experience their end of life, and how much they are willing to go through for the possibility of gaining more time.
It is clear that Elizabeth Glazier is a loving and caring doctor whose respect for her patients grows from a deep sensitivity enhanced by her Jewish experiences. Wouldn’t we all like to find a doctor like that when we face life’s difficult moments?