Doctors' Day Inspires an Investment in Encouragement

The first Doctors' Day observance was held on March 30, 1933, in Barrow, Georgia, to honor the work of physicians. Today, Doctors’ Day is a national celebration. Each year to mark this day, Johns Hopkins Medicine gives patients the opportunity to share messages of gratitude with their physicians. When Karen Duvall, a patient at the Wilmer Eye Institute, received this communication, she immediately thought of her Wilmer retina specialist, Sophie Cai, M.D.

“She just really impressed me,” says Duvall, who wrote a note of support and sent a donation in Cai’s honor to Wilmer, “to bring some recognition to what kind of a doctor she is.”

It was a “very generous surprise,” says Cai. “Sometimes when you're a surgeon you don't know how the patient feels about the process. People like Karen, who really understand that we're all in this together and trying our best to help and appreciate that, remind us of why we're here.”

Duvall was referred to Cai by another ophthalmologist at Wilmer, who told her she needed to see a retina surgeon. “Dr. Cai examined me and was very nice. She told me I had tears in my retina that needed to be taken care of and I could either have surgery or a laser procedure. I said, I'll have surgery. And she said, ‘Good. I'll see you at 7:30 tomorrow morning,’ but in a very calm voice that did not make me afraid.”

While the surgery went well, Duvall ended up with pain in her eye. “Unrelated, as it turned out, to the surgery. But we didn't know this at the time.” Duvall could function only with her eye closed, which was very challenging especially because that eye had previously had the better vision of the two.

“On three different occasions, Dr. Cai saw me on a Saturday at 8 in the morning. It was a three-month recovery,” says Duvall. “And her bedside manner — I've never had a doctor like that. I would get phone calls from her wanting to know how I was and if I could open my eye, how I was seeing. I knew that my eye was in good hands because of her.” Her trust was well founded. After three months, Duvall’s pain subsided and she could once again open her eye.

Duvall’s husband, Jerry Duvall, accompanied her throughout her journey and was likewise impressed with Cai. “She is a physician early in her career who already shows extraordinary competency and capability. She is performing at a level that's well beyond her years,” he says. “And she has, I suspect, a brilliant career ahead of her.”

Donations on Doctors’ Day support everything from journal subscriptions to travel to conferences. Cai plans to use the funds to attend a conference focused on a potential research topic she may pursue — the connection between nearsightedness and retinal detachments.

Because she is early in her career, she has a host of possible topics to focus on — which is both exciting and overwhelming. “Trying to learn more about potential research areas can be expensive, especially for an early career faculty member,” Cai says. “I appreciate any investment that allows me to explore these different interests so that I can figure out how I can try to help, not just with the technology we have currently but also with providing better treatment outcomes down the road.”

But the message and donation from Duvall provided something more important to Cai. “Medicine is not just about what the outcome is on paper, but about how the patient and their family feel about their whole experience. This gift reflects that Karen and Jerry feel like this experience was a positive one. And that's the greatest gift,” says Cai. “That's the whole point of what we do.”