There comes a time when every practitioner will have to bid farewell to a staff member, patient, colleague, or community. Whether it’s because someone is terminally ill or moving away, these sensitive goodbyes can be challenging.
Here are some common send-off scenarios with suggestions for how to say so long.
Illness or death
When my friend was in the final phase of Stage IV breast cancer, she set the bar high for saying goodbye. A retired RN who was pragmatic at heart, she knew there was no hope for her survival. In her last days of cognition, she sent personalized thank you notes to the people who had touched her life. Her closing words still resonate with me. She wrote, “Farewell. I shall miss seeing you.” What a profoundly simple and thoughtful message.
Doctors need to know how to say goodbye with grace, too. Being the person who notifies someone about their imminent death and accompanies them on their final journey is a sacred position. That’s why it’s so important for medical practitioners to feel comfortable offering a heartfelt farewell when the time comes.
Still, it’s natural to agonize over what to say to the dying. A simple and sincere statement like the one my friend shared can suffice. Offering a similar sentiment to their loved ones goes a long way toward their healing, too.
When it’s a doctor who is facing his or her own mortality, it’s only fair to let patients know that there will be a change in the practice. Since it’s probably impractical to notify patients one by one, a concise general announcement will usually suffice. There’s also the chance that a physician will die unexpectedly, in which case their executive or administrative team will need to promptly decide on a plan of action for notifying patients and colleagues of the sudden death.
Retirement or relocation
A strong physician-patient relationship takes time to develop. Losing a trusted doctor for any reason, including retirement or relocation, can be difficult for patients. But it’s not only patients who will need to accommodate the change: Clinic staff will also be affected.
It’s respectful to offer an explanation to both groups well in advance of closing, selling, or moving a practice. Employees should be notified first so they can begin adjusting their career plans. Letting staff know about the change before patients means they can also help spread the word in a considerate and efficient manner.
One of the final acts of compassion a physician can offer patients is to provide ample time for them to absorb the news of departure. Adding recommendations for practices that are accepting new patients and helping with the transfer of medical files are other caring gestures.