“Listen to the patient. They’ll tell you what’s wrong with them,” says Diane Fountas, MD, paraphrasing a favorite quote from the famous physician Sir William Osler. That sentiment may seem quaint in an age of high-tech imaging and advanced diagnostic tests. But to Fountas, it still lies at the heart of being a good physician.
After 30 years as a pediatrician, she finds that a thorough physical exam coupled with listening closely to a patient’s story is still her most effective tool. It’s an approach she learned at Dartmouth Medical School (now the Geisel School of Medicine) and again in her residency in Waterbury, Conn.
“I don’t think I would be the person I am if I had not gone to Dartmouth,” says Fountas, who graduated from the college in 1978 and the medical school in 1981. A generous annual donor to both, she has also included the medical school in her will. “Dartmouth Medical School taught us to be who we are and work with all kinds of people—with inner city kids, kids who have been abused, and the richest of the rich—and remember that we are all the same.”
Working with all kinds of kids has been a theme of Fountas’s career, too. She devoted many years to caring for children with special needs, serving as their primary physician, advocate, and quarterback in the complex health care system. Now she works full time for the Taft School, a private high school in Watertown, Conn., that draws students from all over the world and from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Fountas is charged with building a robust primary care program to serve Taft’s almost 600 students, whom she refers to fondly as “my kids.”
“At Taft, I feel jazzed about medicine again,” says Fountas, who had grown weary of the ever-increasing administrative burden of running her own private practice and the time it was taking away from her primary love—caring for patients. She’s quick to add, though, that she hasn’t “given up” her Waterbury roots. She also works as medical director for the Greater Waterbury child abuse team, doing medical exams and advocating for kids who have allegedly been sexually or physically abused.
Although community service and medicine go hand-in-hand at most medical schools today, that hasn’t always been the case, Fountas explains. Dartmouth Medical School was “cutting edge” in that regard when she attended. “They were already encouraging us to go out in the community to do community health. We met with people around the region and did home visits. That stuff was way ahead of its time.”
Ahead of its time, and yet, the calling to serve one’s community as a physician seems timeless.
“Some people have asked, what would you do if you weren’t a doctor?” says Fountas. “There’s no other option. This is not a job for me; it’s a calling.”