Introducing John Patterson, MD, MSPH, FAAFP

John - Introducing John Patterson, MD, MSPH, FAAFP

          Even though John’s 1970 undergraduate degree was in psychology, he never imagined he would later practice mind-body medicine. Even though he almost stayed in college an extra year to study comparative religions, he also never imagined he would later practice holistic mind-body-spirit medicine. John’s inspiration to study medicine was Albert Schweitzer, who already had doctorates in music and theology when he was driven by a sense of compassion to become a doctor serving humanity for the rest of his life.

          So, after reading the 1972 Scientific American article entitled ‘The Physiology of Meditation,’ John learned to meditate and credits a daily meditation practice with successfully surviving a grueling medical internship. His personal, internal practice of mind-body-spirit medicine had begun. And we all know that to transmit a mind-body-spirit therapeutic message to patients, clients, and students, we must first do our own personal work.

          However, John’s enthusiasm for teaching relaxation to patients initially led to some disconnects with uninterested patients. He gradually learned how important it is to assess a person’s interest and receptivity to engage in self-care or mind-body techniques. Benefiting from his own mistakes, he reminds his students to be sensitive to a patient’s interest, readiness, and capacity for self-care based on mind-body skills before guiding them down a path they aren’t ready to walk.

          John believes strongly in relationship-centered care and the power of mutually therapeutic relationships. He feels most helpful as a physician and most alive as a human being when guiding patients who are interested in assuming personal responsibility and being an active participant in their own medical care and preventive self-care. He reminds health professional students of this potential benefit we practitioners can receive. While helping others reduce stress, our own stress may be reduced. Helping others regain balance and joy in their lives can sometimes help us do the same. 

          Halfway through his 30 years of practice in rural Kentucky, John went back to graduate school part time, hired a part time physician to help with his medical practice and pursued a degree in public health in order to have a greater impact on society.  His final master’s project was to pilot a wellness course for medical students to help them approach self-care in unselfish ways that made selfless service possible. John had begun to impact society by impacting physicians of the future.

          John has taught variations of this course for the last 15 years and most recently had 32 out of 100 students in the senior class choose an afternoon of Mindfulness in Medicine — Practical Skills for Self-Care and Patient Care. He emphasizes the cultivation of ‘moment to moment’ awareness that can enhance the students’ relationship with themselves, their peers and their patients. 

            In the last 15 years, John has taken this ‘self-care for selfless service’ message to hospitals, home health and hospice agencies, health departments, dietitians, medical librarians and cancer survivors.  He believes we are in a transition to a truly integrative medicine — combining the best of conventional biomedicine with proven, safe, effective and affordable complementary approaches. He believes that the respect and acceptance of mind-body medicine is largely responsible for this transition.

          John knows how much practicing mind-body medicine has improved the quality of his personal life, relationships, care of patients and teaching of students. To anyone struggling with whether to pursue mind-body medicine as part of a health professional career, he shares these 2 pieces of advice:

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now.”  (Goethe)

“Trust your feelings, Luke.”   (Star Wars’ Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi)

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