An adult woman opens a letter informing her of her physician's departure.

Good Ways, and Bad Ways, for Doctors to Leave a Practice

When the envelope from one of my dermatologists came in the mail, I wondered if it was the results from a test I had forgotten about. But it turned out to be a letter the dermatologist who treats my skin cancer had written to say she was leaving the practice.

She said that if we had appointments after a certain date, to call the office and reschedule with another doctor in the same office. And she provided information on how to reach her if we wanted to schedule with her elsewhere.

Disappointed the doctor is leaving the practice

I was sad about this because as I wrote, she had put me at ease during a scary procedure: a fingernail biopsy.

The good news though, was that she gave enough notice for me to send her a message through the patient portal. “Hi there, Sorry to hear that you are leaving. If I had to get injections in my fingers, you were definitely the one to do it. Thanks for making it almost fun to get my nails evaluated and fixed,” I wrote.

She responded, “Hi Ronni, It has been such a pleasure taking care of you! I am still doing nail surgery and nail clinic in North Attleboro Ma and East Greenwich RI so if you need me I am around!”

How far is too far to travel for an appointment?

North Attleboro is an hour and a half away, and East Greenwich is about two hours.

The office where I saw her, at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, is about an hour from me.

It’s more convenient and about half the distance of going to Boston, where my other dermatologists are, but less convenient than going to her other locations.

I started going to Boston because when I tried scheduling with my local dermatologist after my first stem cell transplant, they said they would see me in six months. I said I was high risk, though. Still six months.

I could get in more quickly in Boston. Yes, it was less convenient, but worthwhile if the trip could save my life should something awful pop up.

I could stay with the practice, or follow her

It is good to have a process when a doctor leaves. This makes it easier to absorb than if you are gob smacked. My experience stands in contrast with what a friend was telling me just the other day. She said she went to get a test done, gave the referring doctor’s name, and was met with: “Dr. So and So has left the practice.” Not a word from the doctor.

My friend was so upset. The utter lack of courtesy made her angry. She called the office and got a confirmation. She would need to find another doctor.

I don’t need to do anything at this point; I don’t have any skin cancer follow-ups. My nails, which had been thinning and separating from the nail bed, are, thankfully almost back to normal. The cause was apparently graft vs. host disease of the fingernail, and the cure was steroid injections in my fingers. As I wrote the doctor, if I had to choose the one to do such a thing, she would be the one to do it.

Maybe it will be worth the trip

For some reason I thought that North Attleboro was further away than it is. So maybe I will schedule with her if something else pops up, as opposed to staying at UMass with a new doctor.

One thing’s for sure, it’s good to have information on which to base my decisions. And when a doctor who is leaving does it the right way, as my dermatologist did, it’s good for the patient to have a period which can be compared to mourning.

My friend who got the news “out of the blue” will have to mourn on the fly while trying to find a new doctor. That makes it so much harder. I’m glad that my doctor applied the same care to her farewell as she did to taking care of my nails.

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