What inspired you to do what you do?
When I completed pharmacy school, in 2006, I was somewhat at a loss as to how I wanted to move forward as a pharmacist. I simply was not emotionally moved by the more traditional opportunities offered in the pharmacy world. However, fate intervened! A pharmacy residency position in pain and palliative care at Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, would be reposted at the last minute. Little did I know the impact this residency program would have on me, to provide the inspiration of need, not only as the means to continue, but also to develop and flourish.
Why did you focus on pain management?
I solely attribute this to my experiences at Moffit. What our small palliative team was able to accomplish at times was amazing. As my first exposure to such, our palliative team received a consult for a terminally ill patient who was refractory to the care offered and displaying significant symptoms with the current medication. Not only was the patient struggling with the emotional and physical aspects of the disease, but also the uncontrolled pain and significant sedation and accompanying incoherency, resulting in cries for help, from both the patient and the family. Within a half-day, the adjustments made by our team were immeasurable: the patient’s pain was well-controlled, the sedation mitigated, and the patient was sitting up, speaking, and smiling with the family. I would see this type of care with similar outcomes time and time again
Who were your mentors?
Two providers truly impacted me, both during my residency at Moffit. Dr. D. Craig, pharmd, warmly known as David, was my residency preceptor. David is exceptionally bright, but importantly to me as an old country boy, he was down to earth, humble, and blessed with a great sense and delivery of humor. He made this learning experience robust and exciting. Late in my residency, David asked, “Robert, would you like to do a hospice rotation? I have the perfect person for you up in Baltimore.” There I met and trained with the esteemed Lynn McPherson, pharmd. What a hoot! Dr. McPherson, Lynn, whom I often reference as the “Queen of Hospice,” was perfect for me and still today calls me her Southern Boy, or “Bubba.” I loved every minute of the time spent with these two very special people!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
It was more of a soulful awakening. While at Moffit, our palliative team was treating a young, vibrant, but terminally ill patient. I was preparing to fly to DC for a pain conference and received a message that this young lady had asked to see me before my leave. She was quickly losing the battle with her disease, and as I approached her bedside, she weakly reached out to pull me close as she could only whisper her thoughts. She smiled and thanked me for my care, detailing the pain control which allowed her “to spend quality time with my husband” in her remaining days. On my return from the conference, I was stunned to find she had passed. To this day, I have much trouble speaking aloud this story. In all its sadness, which touched me deeply, I’m forever grateful to this proud, stoic young lady. In the midst of all she had to bear, she found it important to take the time to thank me for the personalized care received. This was a pivotal moment my in life, noting the difference one can make in another’s life if we will only take the time to do so. When I lecture or teach, I often share a personal perspective for treating patients with the personalized care you would provide for your loved ones. It’s one of the most important components of the clinical, patient centric, tool kit, and often one of the most appreciated by those cared for. Simply, when you come to care, “Don’t leave your heart at home!”
What is your most marked characteristic?
While “passion for” has always accompanied me, the attribute which found its way to me much later in life is unquestionably that of unbridled “determination.” Once the commitment is made, whether it’s learning to design and build large waterfalls or learning to play a new musical instrument, regardless of trials along the way, I will see the vision to its fruition.
If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?
Robert Frost, you’re up! Two roads diverge in a yellow wood…
Because I was an entertainer and musician in my “first life,” before my doctorates of pharmacy pursuit, I would, and will again, take this path. I’m preparing for this as my retirement from the VA nears. When I went back to school, I set my instruments down in favor of ongoing education and a new vocation. In this past year, I have once again begun playing these estranged instruments. As an effective measure to hone my musical skills, I’ve been performing for Veterans and staff at our VA hospital in Orlando. This a nice blend of patient care with the healing of music, and the perfect course to prepare for the inevitable transition per the sun setting on this VA career.
What is or are your favorite languages?
I’m fascinated with sign language and though I did complete a couple of semesters I, unfortunately, did not stick with it. Today, Spanish has come to mind. I am particularly impressed with Argentinian guitarist/vocalist Luis Salinas. I love his guitar prowess and vocals that are always sung in his native language. It sounds so beautiful, but I cannot understand the language/meaning. As such, I have begun to “Babbel” in Spanish, and have purchased and started learning to play guitar, a language in itself. By this year’s end, my goal is to sing in Spanish while playing the guitar. I’m starting this fledging effort with one of my favorite Salinas’ ballads, Contigo en la Distancia.
If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?
Book: Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea
Movie: Black Hawk Down (2002). I found this a most unsettling, visceral depiction of routine mission—the Battle of Mogadishu (Mission: Gothic Serpent) on October 3, 1993—gone horribly awry. It reminds one of the risks, cost, and ultimate sacrifice of our many soldiers, both of our sung and unsung heroes. Never to be forgotten, our amazing men and women to be honored.
Music: George Gershwin’s concerto, Rhapsody In Blue. Is there any other musical masterpiece to relish while basking in the earth’s heavens?
What would you like your legacy to be?
Simple: All things come to an end, most to be forgotten in time. For most, the coveted legacy is in the eye of the owner. Were you what you should have been? In life, did you present to yourself and others with honor? Did your deeds, when appropriate, transcend that of self-gratification to include the benefit of others? How you’ll be remembered may not be detailed on a plaque, but may very well be that of your last self-assessment and I hope that to be a good one!
Plans for the future?
Upon my retirement from the VA, I would like to continue to lecture and participate in national community efforts to engage the challenges of pain and opioid use disorder and management. With regards to the artist within me, I will continue to pursue my musical endeavors with the sax, drums, and guitar, of course now with a touch of Spanish flare.
What is your motto?
Find “A Garden Within a Rose.” That is the title of my first attempt at prose, an unshared, private effort detailing my almost innate inability to recognize in simplicity the overt or seemingly hidden treasures offered in daily surroundings. It notes the necessity to appreciate and enjoy that which is offered, not simply to exist but to flourish. Life is simply too short to do otherwise!