Dr. Robert Buckman: Friend, Colleague and Mentor

I was working in the ER at Mount Sinai Hospital this past Monday evening when I read online the news that Dr. Robert Buckman had died suddenly while en route to Toronto from London, England.  I must have stared at the computer screen for a minute or longer trying but completely unable to digest the news.  That so vital a man and an intellect is gone from our midst is utterly astonishing to me.

Rob was smart, funny, wise and always generous with his time.  I met him when he had just arrived from the UK filled with the desire to start a new life in Canada.  At the time, I had just begun working as an ER physician while nurturing a fledgling career in medical journalism. 

Within minutes of meeting him, he became one of my idols:  someone who combined his love of medicine with a passion for performing.  He was an amazing success at both.  Rob was a media star on the BBC:  a writer and performer at or near the same level as his Monty Python chums John Cleese and Terry Jones.  He was the star of shows like "Don't Ask Me" and "Where There's Life" with Dr. Miriam Stoppard.

Rob also did a brief, subversively funny series that was much better than Doctor In The House called The Pink Medicine Show.  It's strange, but I came across some clips from the show just this past weekend on YouTube as I was looking for clips and songs to use on White Coat, Black Art.  He looked so young back then...

I interviewed him in the mid 1980s and had him on WCBA twice.  The first time was on a show we did about the personal religious beliefs of health care professionals and how those beliefs affected them on the job.  Rob was a secular humanist.  Agree with him or not, he argued passionately that only bad things come from organized religion and that the world would be a better place if done away with,

I aspire to continue juggling my media and medical careers.  In that sense, Rob was always an inspriation to me.  He could have had an amazingly successful career as a media host.   But he found a way to use his prodigious talent for explaining things medical to help allied health professionals. 

Rob authored many books aimed at helping people like me take better care of you.  His textbook "How to Break Bad News.  A Guide for Health Care Professionals" is still used as a standard text at many colleges and universities.  Likewise, Rob shared his wisdom with the lay public with books such as "CANCER is a word, not a sentence", "What You Really Need to Know About Cancer", and "I Don't Know What to Say.  How to Help & Support Someone Who is Dying".   

The second time Rob was on WCBA, he did a wonderful interview on the technique he recommends to help health professionals with the often painful task of giving bad news to patients. You can listen to the interview here:

Rob was always unfailingly generous to me with his time.  His blurb on the back of my book "The Night Shift" is something precious that I will always treasure with a bit of sadness.

A few months ago, Rob approached me to help him with a project: a series of educational videos that he hoped to market to the public that would contain two or three pithy tips to understanding a particular medical condition.  We had a cordial meeting.  He said he'd get back to me.  He never did.  And now he's gone, far too young, at the age of 63.

My friend, I can never repay you for your many kindnesses to me.  What I can do is dedicate myself to helping others who are trying to gain a toe-hold in the twin fields of medicine and media.

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