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Dr. Matthew Plofsky, Family Doctor: The Art of Building Relationships with Patients and Families

Thursday, July 17, 2014 2:49 PM

Making connections with patients, with entire families, is what Matthew Plofsky, MD, Family Medicine at NorthShore, enjoys most about his chosen specialty. Not only does he get the chance to help his patients feel better and stay better, but he can watch his littlest patients grow up and his patients’ families grow larger as he provides care over the years.  As a child, his own pediatrician was not simply a doctor; he was a warm, caring man who took the time to develop a relationship with the whole family. This example, as well as his mother’s efforts as a nurse for over 40 years and a desire to be challenged by his career, led Dr. Plofsky to family medicine. 

An avid nature photographer, Dr. Plofsky’s artistic passion has provided him with an outlet for his creativity. This outlet has also given him a chance to deepen connections with some of his patients. In fact, his current exhibition, “Our Natural World,” is dedicated to the memory of his patient “Superman” Sam Sommer, (whose story you can read on the Superman Sam blog) who fought a courageous battle with leukemia that he sadly lost in December 2013. Dr. Plofsky will be donating all of the proceeds from his current photography exhibition to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money for childhood cancer research grants.

Here, Dr. Plofsky discusses his two passions—medicine and photography—and the role of the family doctor:

Why did you choose to pursue family medicine? What was it that stood out most about that specialty? 
Growing up, I saw my pediatrician as a warm and caring individual; he knew us personally and developed a meaningful relationship with our family. As I explored different options in training, I was drawn to family practice because it created similar opportunities to connect with patients.  But it’s also challenging because a family physician must have a firm grasp on a broad base of medical knowledge that the specialty demands. It’s extremely rewarding to take care of individuals and families as they move through life. 

Additionally, my mother was a strong role model. She worked for 40 years as a nurse. Her tireless work at the Whitehall Nursing Home opened my eyes to the field of medicine and what I could do to help others.  

What do you enjoy most about your profession?
The most rewarding part is the satisfaction gained from developing strong relationships with my patients and knowing that I’m helping them stay well. The connections that are created as I care for individuals and families are a daily reaffirmation of why I went into medicine. 

What is the most difficult aspect of family medicine?
As a physician, we have the knowledge to diagnose and treat many illnesses. Our ability to manage chronic and life-threatening diseases is constantly improving and enhancing our patients’ lives. Unfortunately, we don’t have the treatments for every illness. As a physician trained to help people get better, it’s extremely difficult to see some patients simply not get better despite our best efforts. This was especially difficult with my patient Sam Sommer because he was so young and I’d been treating his family for the past 12 years. I’d been Sam’s doctor from shortly after he was born until he passed away not long after his 8th birthday.

In addition to medicine, you are also passionate about photography. What sparked this interest? 
My interest in photography goes back to high school. I was a staff photographer for my high school yearbook; I specialized in candids and sports images. Over the past seven years, I’ve gone on to develop a passion for photography now as an adult. My interest in photography stemmed somewhat from the technical challenge it presented and evolved more to the creative exploration it has become. 

Why has nature become your chosen subject? 
For me, nature photography is a passion. First, I love being outdoors, hiking and exploring new areas of our natural world. When I’m taking pictures in nature, I have the opportunity to creatively record what I have seen and can present it to others. I find this both challenging and rewarding. Spending time outdoors is also relaxing and spiritually uplifting. 

Has pursuing this passion impacted the way you approach medicine at all?
Indirectly. It has opened up many conversations with my patients about their creative endeavors and hobbies. It has reminded me that we all need to take time to pursue our passions and that you need to set aside time to do this. My own health issues several years ago helped me to realize that I needed to do this. 

Why did you decide to donate the proceeds from this exhibition to St. Baldrick’s? 
St. Baldrick’s primary fundraisers are these fun head-shaving events. Sam’s parents, Michael and Phyllis, who are both Reform Rabbis, were involved in one recently called “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave.” They and 52 other rabbis shaved their heads in support of this cause. It was such a powerful message and it inspired me to find a way to help them too, so I started my own St. Baldrick’s fundraiser. Sam loved nature and he loved the Heller Center, where my exhibition will run through July and August. With Sam’s love for nature and my photography, I thought that dedicating my photo exhibit to his memory and using it to help raise money for St. Baldrick’s would be a perfect way to help. 

The open house was held on Sunday, July 20, 2014 at the Heller Nature Center (2821 Ridge Road in Highland Park).

Dr. Plofsky's photos from the exhibit are available online through American Frame. Donations can also be made directly to St. Baldrick's here