Karen E. Arscott, DO ’86January 9, 2019
“At Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (GCSoM), I enjoy teaching patient-centered
medicine—making medical students aware of cultural biases and the ethics of medicine,
teaching them how to interview a patient and conduct a physical exam. But after teaching
for 15 years, I admittedly miss my patients and the physician/patient connection.
I tell my students that they are in the most wonderful profession because they have
opportunities to make those special connections and that each connection is a gift.
. . . Making connections can be hard, though, and they can lead to sadness and a sense
of loss. The truth is, nobody gets out alive. Death is part of life. That’s part of
the authenticity of human care we accept when we sign up to become physicians. .
. . As an intern and a resident and then again as a hospitalist, I was often the physician
who would come and sit by the bedside of a patient who was dying. I’d hold his or
her hand. Is there a more moving experience than to be with a person when they pass?
There is such an immensity to it. It never gets small for me. . . . I guess you can
say that I’m grappling to find a balance between academic medicine and clinical practice.
Six years ago, I started working—once a month—in a tuberculosis clinic, talking to
patients, explaining to them what is going on with their disease. It helped with my
desire to see patients—at least a little. . . . The opioid crisis has been building
for many years and is going to demand a great deal of our focus for years to come.
I first learned about the opioid crisis 15 years ago and started working to help educate
parents in my area. I taught the family and addiction section of the Student Assistance
Program for two counties. It was a natural fit for me to begin clinical work with
people suffering from substance use disorder and so now I’m also working in a clinic
to those patients. . . . At GCSoM, we have created a section of the first year where
for four weeks the students are required to participate in some form of self-care
or wellness at least one hour per week. These wellness sessions may be yoga, meditation
spirituality, exercise, etc. My own self-care includes exercise. I was a runner for
years. Now I walk for self-release. I’ve walked four marathons and six half marathons.
I can walk a half marathon in three hours; it takes me six and a half hours to walk
a marathon. . . . I have my own medical issues. In 2006, I was diagnosed with lung
cancer. Sixteen months later, I had a recurrence. It was Stage 3, and I was given
a 9 to 14 percent chance to live for five years. That was 11 years ago. During my
recovery, I enrolled in a spinning class. When I would spin, I would close my eyes
and pretend I was racing cancer. I always won. . . . Whatever you can do to boost
yourself, do it. It’s a body–mind–spirit battle. I also pray a lot. I ask God to support
me and give me strength to handle everything I need to get through. So far, that’s
what I have gotten.”