Physician Health

Dr. Lindquist: The moment I knew medicine was my calling

Physicians are privileged to see patients at their most vulnerable, to reshape lives and continually revitalize the nation’s health system. In a challenging practice environment, physicians remain driven by the power of healing and the indelible connections they form with patients and families.

The AMA Wire® “When I Knew Medicine Was My Calling” series profiles a wide variety of doctors, offering a glimpse into the lives of the busy women and men navigating new courses in their careers and in American medicine. No matter their age, their specialty or their career stage, they were born to do this and they tell us why.

Share a moment with: Lee A. Lindquist, MD, MPH, MBA, geriatrics section chief, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

I was born to: Help seniors age in place.                                

The moment I knew medicine was my calling: Second grade. From small on, I always thought the human body was amazing (e.g. how we turn food into poop), but I never fathomed being a doctor because ladies at that time became teachers, secretaries, decorators, etc. (We played the board game, “What Shall I Be? The Exciting Game of Career Girls.” Seriously. Look it up!) My grandmother was a medical secretary and told me one day around second grade, “You could be a doctor.” The idea blew me away and made me realize that medicine could be my future. Geriatric medicine is my true calling and passion. I love working with seniors and I felt a definite pull to serve this population. There were so many forgotten in nursing homes and I felt they deserved a better future.

My sources of inspiration: Grandparents and parents. Now, my kids. When I was growing up, I was always surrounded by seniors. My grandparents had large families—my grandfather was the youngest of eight—and we were frequently checking up on senior relatives. It really made me understand what is important in the long run, and how we need to care for each other throughout our lifespans. It is our duty to take care of seniors because they laid the groundwork for where we are today.


Intergenerational care is so important in learning about history, values and life in general. I want to ensure that the younger generations interact and learn from seniors—especially my own kids,  who are 7 and 8 years old—since there is a good chance that they will be taking care of me and my spouse when we turn 96 . My kids are my sources of inspiration now, in that I have to set an example for them in how I want to be treated as a senior.  ​

My hope for the future of medicine: My hope is that we train enough physicians/geriatricians to provide excellent care for seniors.

The hardest moment in medicine and how I got past it:  During residency, prior to the changes in the work hours, I was working endlessly, overtired, with an unending lists of tasks and caring for complicated, sick patients. To get past it, I chose to smile. Smile, prioritize, pick the most critical task and keep smiling.

Being positive and upbeat improves any problem, and it's more fun. Even in leadership, people want to follow positive people. The workload changes shape over time—even now, out of residency, and serving as chief of geriatrics at Northwestern University. But as long as you smile and prioritize, it works. I've seen it with my senior patients. Everyone has dealt with hardship, but if you are positive, you will be outstanding!

My favorite experience working with the medical team:  Collaborating with social workers. There are so many social needs involved in taking care of seniors —supporting family caregivers, hiring paid caregivers, meals, transportation, activities—that it is incredible how much fixing a social issue helps the medical care. 

The most challenging aspects of caring for patients: Families who are uninvolved in the care of their senior relatives. Physicians who are not up-to-date on geriatric medicine and unknowingly prescribe dangerous medicines to seniors. 

The most rewarding aspect of caring for patients: Truly making a difference in a senior's life. A 90-year-old senior will come in with weight loss, weighing 88 –pounds, after a full work-up by their physicians that has revealed no cause, except they are on a very restrictive, low-carbohydrate, low-protein, low-fat diet. As a geriatrician, I see the forest, not the trees, and see that every specialist has done a very good job of managing each disease, but in the process, the senior has deteriorated to a skeleton.

I get to tell the 90-year-old to eat a calorie-dense, high-carbohydrate, high-fat diet—eat pie—which the senior loves, frequently hugging me!. The senior will return at the next visit, feeling more energy, loving life and getting back to a healthy weight. (Caveat: Not everyone should try this without a geriatrician's oversight.) I get to do the fun job as a geriatrician —liberalize diets, deprescribe medications, encourage participation in activities. It's an amazing job! 

The skills every physician should have but won’t be tested for on the board exam: Love and empathy. You have to love what you do and really feel for the patients and their families. 

One question students should ask themselves before pursuing medicine: Don't question it. If you have the passion, do it. 

A quick insight I would give students who are considering medicine: In medicine, there are going to be plenty of times when people put you down or you doubt yourself. Be confident— you can do it. You will be awesome! 

Mantra to describe my life in medicine: Here's to living an amazing lifespan—let’s plan for our 96-year-old lives!