Doctor offers a dose of empathy

Emergency physician wins national honor for his approach

By LYNDA STRINGER / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Ralph W. Kelly’s childhood experiences growing up poor with eight brothers and sisters and little access to medical care instilled in him not only a passion to practice medicine, but also a strong desire to care for people.

Because of his compassion and commitment to patient care, the 57-year-old veteran of emergency medicine has received the national 2006 EmCare Commitment to Care award.

The Plano physician, the emergency department medical director of Trinity Medical Center in Carrollton and RHD Memorial Medical Center-Dallas in Farmers Branch, began his medical career in 1979.

Growing up, Dr. Kelly had a sister with cerebral palsy and another sibling – one of a set of twins – who died as an infant.

“They were so small, and in rural Mississippi, the doctors said my mother could take them home, but that they wouldn’t make it.

“My mother set up her own heating device, and the girl made it, but the boy didn’t,” he said.

He also remembers how his mother had to treat a laceration to his head when he was very young.

“She would hold my head and pour alcohol into it until it healed, and I thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way.’ ”

Those experiences shaped his future as a physician and defined his philosophy of seeing patients as people. He said he tries to instill that philosophy in young doctors.

“Treat patients as someone who has come in and entrusted their lives and their health to you,” he said.

“Look at them as brothers and sisters, as mothers and fathers, as sons and daughters.”

Trinity Medical Center CEO Spencer Turner said Dr. Kelly deserves the award because of his “many contributions to the practice of emergency medicine and his unwavering dedication to his staff and patients.”

EmCare, a leading provider of emergency care, is a physician-driven organization that says it strives to provide an environment of compassion, dignity, respect and integrity in patient care.

David Grinbergs, CEO of EmCare’s Southwest region in Dallas, said Dr. Kelly personifies those characteristics.

“He loves interacting and communicating with his patients, and he focuses on patient satisfaction,” Dr. Grinbergs said.

“He also focuses on the latest and best practices.

“He has gained much knowledge and holds multiple certifications and continues to hone his skills in patient care.”

Dr. Kelly said a key part of being a physician is recognizing that he is the facilitator of healing, not the healer.

“I believe in divine healing. No doctor heals anyone. When you have a laceration, we clean and close [the wound]. The healing is done by the divine designer,” Dr. Kelly said.

“I try to remind myself of that all the time. It keeps you humbled as to what your role is.”
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