Part of the Healing Process
Dr. Peter Lee, Class of 2012, Forges Connections with His Patients
“When we see patients in the emergency room, we’re seeing them at their most vulnerable,” Dr. Peter Q. Lee (TouroCOM ’12) explained. “They are in their moment of greatest need.”
For Lee, an emergency room physician at St. Barnabas Hospital, his responsibility isn’t only to make a quick and correct diagnosis. He must also give his patients a tangible sense of calm.
"When a patient gets to the ER, they’re scared,” Lee continued. “In a matter of minutes, you need to develop a connection to make them feel a little bit more comfortable. You need to develop a relationship—TouroCOM encouraged me to think about how to do that.”
Forming that connection comes easily to Lee, a charismatic native of China who moved to the United States with his parents as a four-year-old child. Lee originally planned to become a professional soccer player (and played while a student at Rutgers University), but when his soccer career didn’t pan out, a personal tragedy spurred him to consider a career in the medical field. When Lee’s aunt was 31, she suffered a brain hemorrhage outside of her hometown in China. The family couldn’t afford the upfront payment and her treatment was delayed, causing her to fall into a coma from which she never emerged.
In the ER, Lee sees a chance to correct the error that led to his aunt’s death; and in his patients, Lee also sees other shades of his family, like his father, a Ph.D. student from China who arrived in America with $68 in his pocket.
“In the ER a lot of our immigrants don’t have healthcare,” stated Lee. “They are the sickest members of our society because they don’t have any medical care. I have a soft spot for them and I try to make sure there is follow-up.”
After graduating from Rutgers, Lee decided to attend TouroCOM because of the diversity of the student body and the diversity of New York City. “No other place could give me what TouroCOM offered.”
Lee’s attitude towards his medical practice is summed up in a quote by his favorite author Maya Angelou: “I learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people won’t forget how you made them feel,” Angelou wrote. Each time Lee meets a patient he uses his myriad experiences and interests to connect with patients and help them feel heard and in control, whether it’s a musical connection (Lee is a life-long Michael Jackson fan and moon-walked across the Apollo stage when he delivered the TouroCOM graduation speech); rooting for the same sports team; or understanding what it is like to have a close family member in the ER—Lee’s father almost died of a heart attack while he was in medical school.
“We have to treat our patients, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually— a whole body approach,” Lee said. “Our purpose is not to find illness, but to find health.”