It’s not unusual for UF emergency physician Giuliano De Portu, MD, to spend the wee hours of the morning in the emergency department at UF Health Shands Hospital, but one night in February, his shift working with residents suddenly turned into a stay as a patient.
“I had a moment when my heart felt a bit off,” says De Portu, who was diagnosed with a high-grade atrioventricular block and subsequently underwent a procedure to implant a pacemaker. “It went away, and then it happened again. My pulse was really low, so I was admitted for observation overnight. I was treated by my residents. It was interesting to be on the other side of patient care. I’m so glad I was here at work when I caught this problem.”
Among De Portu’s care team was UF cardiology fellow Steven Ross, MD. Ross’ last name reminded De Portu of his medical student days at Ross University School of Medicine, a private institution formerly located on the island of Dominica and currently located in Bridgetown, Barbados. De Portu channeled his curiosity into a Google search and discovered that coincidentally, Ross was a fellow alumnus of the medical school. On the last day of his hospital stay, De Portu shared his discovery with Ross by mentioning an ice cold Kubuli, a beer popular in Dominica.
“Finding out that Dr. De Portu was a fellow Ross alumnus certainly made me feel more at ease,” Ross says. “You develop an instant sense of comfort with someone knowing they’ve had some of the same life-changing experiences.”
For De Portu, who also serves as a clinical assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine and an assistant dean for diversity and health equity at the College of Medicine, his experiences as a patient in his own hospital were similarly life-changing in that they renewed his commitment to compassionate patient care and medical education.
“When a doctor becomes a patient, it makes you feel vulnerable, just like your patients sometimes feel,” says De Portu, who has spent the past seven years teaching UF medical students anatomy and physiology through ultrasound technology. “It puts you in a patient’s shoes, so as a doctor, you feel more empathy for those you treat. These experiences make you more connected to the care you give. I’m so happy to be back stronger than ever.”
This story originally ran in the Fall 2020 issue of the Doctor Gator newsletter.