“He cares about his patients. Really cares. And they can tell, so they confess things. …This doctor patient trust, it’s so intimate in a little practice like this one.”
That’s how a reporter for the popular NPR radio show This American Life described Dr. Benjamin Gilmer after observing him treating patients at his rural practice at MAHEC Family Health Center at Cane Creek in Fletcher, North Carolina.
One older patient was so concerned about a benign lump in her groin that Dr. Gilmer gave her a sonogram even though she didn’t need one simply because he knew it would make her feel better. He didn’t charge her for the procedure.
Dr. Gilmer, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina who now lives in Asheville, is a Schweitzer Fellow for Life who spent his Fellowship year enrolling uninsured children in Pitt County, North Carolina in free or subsidized insurance programs. The following year, he served as a Lambaréné Fellow, living and working at the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, Africa. He has raised funds for and awareness of the program and now serves on the Advisory Board of the North Carolina chapter of The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship.
Dr. Gilmer began practicing at the Cane Creek health center in 2009. Early on he was often compared to his beloved predecessor, the founder of the health center and a man who coincidentally shared his last name, Dr. Vince Gilmer. Vince Gilmer, sadly, underwent profound personality changes that led him to murder his abusive father in 2004. He was sentenced to life in prison. The tight-knit community was stunned and the clinic suffered. Vince Gilmer languished in a Virginia prison for nearly a decade, his health deteriorating and his reputation in ruins.
The more Dr. Gilmer learned about the compassionate care his patients had received from “the other Dr. Gilmer,” the more interested he became in learning more about this deeply respected doctor and how his life had gotten so dramatically off track. He visited Vince Gilmer in prison to hear his side of the story and learn about medical issues the imprisoned doctor said contributed to his criminal behavior. “Perhaps I am naïve, but I trusted Vince,” Dr. Gilmer wrote in a 2013 article about the case. “I began to investigate more, looking at various events that could have influenced his behavior.”
Eventually, Dr. Gilmer unraveled a medical mystery that plausibly explained “how such a good man could have committed such a horrific act.” Vince Gilmer is now receiving proper medical care and his health has improved dramatically. Since “Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde,” which detailed Dr. Gilmer’s odyssey, first aired on This American Life last year, prison advocates have taken an interest in Vince Gilmer’s case. Thanks to Dr. Gilmer’s efforts, Vince Gilmer is receiving proper medical treatment.
As Dr. Gilmer has said, “The story reminds us of a very important humanistic lesson that we try to respect in family medicine: to approach each patient without judgment or preconception.”
Dr. Gilmer enthralled us as the morning keynote speaker at the Schweitzer Leadership Conference in Boston on Sat. Nov. 8, 2014. Attendees learned more about his extraordinary commitment to delivering compassionate care no matter the patient’s circumstances.
In addition to hearing from Dr. Gilmer, the Schweitzer Leadership Conference offered networking opportunities and a faculty roster of the most innovative minds currently working in the areas of health care, public policy and social justice.