Spirit of Hope – Dr. Paul Donohue

DrPaulDonohueThis year’s Shari Finsilver Spirit of Hope Award recipient, Dr. Paul Donohue, writes a daily column titled “To Your Health” that is syndicated to more than 175 newspapers. The question-and-answer series is one of the oldest health columns in North America, having first appeared in the 1950s. Dr. Donohue took over the series thirty years ago.

Dr. Donohue is board-certified in his primary specialty, internal medicine, the specialty that emphasizes diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of illnesses. He also is board-certified in the sub-specialty of infectious diseases.

He graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has a master’s degree in public health from Tulane University in New Orleans and did advanced work on infectious diseases at the University of California, Davis. After completing medical school, he served two years in the Army Medical Corps and 18 months as battalion surgeon in the 173rd Airborne Brigade during Vietnam. He was awarded two Bronze Stars, one of which was for valor during combat.

IETF:  What drew you to the field of medicine and public health originally?

Dr. Donohue:  My intention in going to medical school was to become a physiciatrist. After four years of school, I realized psychiatry was not for me. I chose internal medicine as best suited to me.

IETF:  You have written the column To Your Health for nearly two decades. Have the nature of questions from readers changed over that span?

Dr. Donohue:  The nature of the majority of questions has stayed the same—heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and all the common illnesses. Things that changed during my newspaper career were newly described illness. I’ve actually been writing the column for three decades. I started well before anyone knew of AIDS and other infectious diseases like West Nile Fever. Those are only two examples. The introduction of new techniques like coronary artery surgery along with the introduction of new medical devices like the heart defibrillator brought questions that were new to the public, doctors, and me.

IETF:  Do you find that readers are more knowledgeable today given access to online information about medical conditions and treatments?

Dr. Donohue:  People are much more knowledgeable today. They’re exposed to discussions on all medical ailments through TV — professional medical discussion, news programs and dramatic programs whose theme is based on medical topics.

IETF:  Is misinformation problematic for consumers seeking health advice and treatment from online or other sources?

Dr. Donohue:  Since Internet information is often provided by people with little to no training and since the printed word on a computer screen tends to have an aura of infallibility, lots of misinformation is widely distributed. On the other hand, lots of good information is transmitted by people with impressive credentials. You have to be careful who is saying what.

IETF:  After writing the column for so many years, why do you continue this work?

Dr. Donohue:  I continue to write the column because it’s given me an opportunity to stay up-to-date in many fields and to affect the lives of more people than I would ever see in a private practice. I like to study medicine.

IETF:  What is the most rewarding aspect of your role as a columnist? And the most challenging?

Dr. Donohue:  The most rewarding aspect of being a columnist is to hear from people who sought treatment for an illness they didn’t realize they had or for an illness they thought they had but did not. The most challenging thing is try to stay current with the latest treatments and newly recognized conditions.

IETF: Essential tremor is a condition that affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. Yet, it is still not well known or diagnosed accurately. How can the public learn more about the condition and/or receive proper diagnosis of ET?

Dr. Donohue:  If it weren’t for the International Essential Tremor Foundation, the number of people who know nothing of this illness would be a hundred times larger than it is. My uncle had essential tremor. Even after I became a doctor, he insisted he had Parkinson’s disease. Nothing I said would convince him otherwise. It still amazes me how many people recognize Parkinson’s disease and how relatively few people know about essential tremor, a more common disorder. I believe more doctors are now diagnosing this illness and that’s how the general public will learn about it.

IETF:  In the spirit of hope, what thoughts can you share with the many people that have ET, a condition that can be treated but not cured at this time?

Dr. Donohue:  I wish people with this condition would recognize it for what it is, usually an eminently treatable disorder even for those with the most disabling tremor. I think that will
happen in a realistically short time.