Q&A with Joshua Dowd, MD
Why did you decide to work in palliative care?
When I was in my last year of med school, I thought that I wanted to be an oncologist. I opted to do an elective in palliative care because I thought that knowing about that side of things would definitely be important for my future career. During my time with the PC team, it was obvious that there was something very different about the work that we did and the people who did the work. Everyone was an important part of the team, everyone’s input was valued, and we actually thought about the people we were caring for as people. Like real people. And everyone on the team treated each other like real people, too. It’s disappointing to need to point out how different that was from anything else I’d seen in medicine, but it’s true!
I didn’t think much about pursuing PC as a career at that time because I thought it was sad that just about everyone we saw was really sick and not going to get better. Pretty early on in internal medicine residency, though, I realized that everyone I was caring for in the hospital was just as sick. Instead of getting to know them, what was important to them, and how medicine could help them live their lives instead of take over their lives, I was spending time checking boxes, focusing on medical problems and not what they meant to the person dealing with them. When I was able to work with a PC team again later in the year, it became so clear that this is what I always thought of when I used to think about being a doctor. Practicing palliative care was what I thought practicing medicine in general would be. From that point on, I knew that focusing on palliative care was what I wanted to do. I like to think that PC is the specialty that reminds medicine about humanity and that patients are humans with lives and loved ones and not just lists of medical problems. I can’t think of anything more special to do.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I think there are two main things. One, I get to work with an amazing team of people who all have the same sense of purpose with our role in health care, who all bring different skills and experiences to the table to help people the best we can, who want to always learn more and improve, and who want to focus on getting to know people as people and supporting them in any way that’s helpful. Two, I have the time and support to simply sit with people, learn who they are and what’s important to them, help them understand what’s going on with their health, support them in making some really tough decisions, and really to just be present with them. It’s such a privilege to be invited into people’s lives when they’re going through something really challenging and for them to trust that you can help. Again, I can’t think of anything more special.
What do you enjoy most about living in the Triangle area?
There’s so much. There are so many great restaurants including Monuts (we get their donuts every weekend), breweries, coffee places (we also get Cocoa Cinnamon every weekend), parks, trails, museums, the Durham Bulls, the theater, symphony, etc. There are also clearly all four seasons here, which is wonderful; I was used to it going from 6 months of winter straight to summer up north. While the Triangle has so much to do, the state of NC is also beautiful with both the mountains and the beach close by. I think it’s also important to live in an area where most people celebrate our diversity and our differences, recognize the systemic inequalities that are present in our communities, and put in the work to make meaningful change. That’s certainly not the case everywhere in our state or country but I feel like it is here.