Physicians Who Make a Difference-Quietly

Physician's Money Digest, May 15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 9

The medical profession is fullof pioneers—doctors whohave changed the course ofevents and improved the humancondition down through the years.

The list of history-making physiciansis endless—Drs. William Osler,Alexander Fleming, Walter Reed,Elizabeth Blackwell, BenjaminSpock, Charles Drew, and JonasSalk just to name a few.

The Doctor Business

In recent years, we've profiledmany of these medical professionleaders in sectionof this magazine. Many of ourreaders, perhaps seeking inspirationand illumination, have told us thatthey enjoy reading about the landmarksuccesses of their medical colleagues.We plan to continue theeffort. Everyone needs a role model.


I also know that you don't have tobe famous to have an enormous impacton the welfare of a community.This fact was reinforced with therecent death of my physician-uncle,James Ennis Sheehan, MD.

A Ridgefield, Conn, pediatricianfor more than 43 years, his localnewspaper summed up his noble lifeof healing this way: "He was an old-fashioneddoctor, visiting the homesof children with strep or the flu, blackbag in hand, wearing just a rumpledsuit jacket no matter the weather,dedicated to his patients, not worryingabout the money."

Motivated more by healing thanby business, family and colleaguessay his signature line on providinggratis medical care was: "As long as Ihave a roof over my head." At a post-funeralevent celebrating his life ofcaring, I was told that generations ofRidgefield mothers felt more secureknowing Dr. Sheehan's phone numberwas close by their own phone."He had such a special touch withkids," one friend said. "You could seeit in their eyes."

Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1922,the son of a physician, my Uncle Jimwas the first practicing pediatricianin Ridgefield—a city with a populationof more than 20,000. He foundedand was the director of the pediatricsunit at both the Norwalk andDanbury Hospitals. He also servedfor decades as the doctor forRidgefield public schools.


My uncle—my mom's youngerbrother—was certainly devoted to hispatients, but he was also a fine familyman. A husband for 42 years andfather of 11 children, Uncle Jim insistedon full family dinners everynight starting at 6 PM on the button.

Friends and family said he was aman possessed of "common sense,decency, and kindness." Perhaps I'mbeing a hopeless romantic—I knowtoday's society likes to hammer themedical profession—but to me, myUncle Jim was the embodiment of awise and caring doctor. He made adifference in people's lives. That's arole model for us all.