Caring for the caregiver: The legacy of Dr. Daniel Burdick

“Caring for the cancer patient is complicated, time-consuming and demanding. Physicians who care effectively for their cancer patients must reach deeply within themselves to mobilize their inner resources for this effective care.” Dr. Daniel Burdick wrote these words in 1987; nearly 30 years later, they remain as true as ever.

As a general surgeon and surgical oncologist who practiced for more than 40 years in central New York, Dr. Burdick was deeply concerned not just about his patients, but also about his colleagues. He knew that professional caregivers struggle to balance the clinical demands of  patient care with the emotional challenges of caring for gravely ill patients.

As the nation faces a clinician burnout epidemic, his daughter, Janet Rosen, recalls how her father’s emphasis on caring for the caregivers “was remarkable foreshadowing; he was a visionary in many ways.” He was quick to identify the importance to attend to physicians’ needs, long before it became the urgent issue it is today.

When Dr. Burdick retired from his practice in the mid-1980s, he sent a letter to notify all of his patients. In response, he received a flurry of letters and cards from patients and family members expressing their gratitude for his care over the years. Dr. Burdick’s children, who had been largely shielded from the challenges of his professional life while growing up, were struck by the many lives their father had touched during his career.

“There are not enough words on cards to express our deep-felt gratitude for your most kind wishes and support that your presence gave to my husband during his recent stay,” wrote one patient. “It was such a comfort to him that someone in their long, busy day would take a few moments of their time to bring hope and a bit of joy to a friend. We are indeed blessed to have such an interested, compassionate doctor.”

Another patient wrote, “I remember when you were the busiest man in town. You never failed to pick up the phone when I called. I knew I was in good and caring hands.”

It was clear that Dr. Burdick had spent his career modeling the definition of compassionate care – care that is characterized by mutual respect, emotional support and effective communication.

After Dr. Burdick’s death in 2012, his children wanted to honor his dedication to the compassionate care that he provided throughout his career. They knew that their father would not have been satisfied lending his name to a plaque or hospital room. Instead, they created the Dr. Daniel Burdick Compassionate Care Fund to support the Schwartz Rounds™ program at the Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, New York. The Rounds program offers healthcare providers the opportunity to openly and honestly discuss the social and emotional issues they face in caring for patients and families. “The Rounds are a living, breathing vehicle for honoring our father’,” said his daughter, Amy Burdick. “Through the Rounds, our father’s work and impact can live on.”

Dr. Burdick was acutely aware of the challenges facing physicians and other clinicians, and wrote that they must “develop their own intrinsic and extrinsic support systems.” The Rounds are one tool that caregivers and their organizations can use to build supportive environments and systems to prevent burnout and lead to more high-quality, compassionate care for patients. “Our father would be thrilled with the Schwartz Rounds, and I know he would have attended every single one of them,” said Amy. “The program is truly the calm within the storm for caregivers.”


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