The office of Karen Blanchard M.D. and Associates opened in Santa Monica on July 13, 1977. The decision to start her own practice came after no one in Santa Monica would even interview her. Her medical degree from Johns Hopkins and being Chief Resident at UCLA weren’t enough in 1977. She was told, “women wouldn’t go to a woman doctor.” The President of Santa Monica Bank, Joe Walling, must have believed she would be a success. With only her signature as collateral he gave her a loan. But even docs who thought she was a good doc told her, “Be prepared to sit on your hands for up to 2 years because there are so many well known docs with medical prestige in Santa Monica that no patient will want an unknown woman doctor.” By the time she’d been in practice for 6 months, she was delivering 20 -25 babies a month. All the predictions about the failure of her office had proven false. But Karen was having so many problems with the hospitals that other people worried she would leave. Instead, she, with the support of the nurses, worked to change the hospital culture.“There are three things I tell the Residents I’m training. One is that they must care. Two is that they must listen. Three is that, if they don’t care and can’t listen, then they need to do something other than be doctors. I wanted to follow my own rules.“I had planned to go into academic medicine. I was a Fellow in Maternal-Fetal Medicine. I had trained Residents. But I wanted to change the way hospitals cared for pregnant women. I went into private practice wanting to find out if my ideas had merit. I wanted to center medical care on what my patients really wanted and really needed. “Time has passed and now having fathers present at the birth of their child, having fathers cut the umbilical cord, having comfortable rooms with beds for family members to sleep over, letting siblings come to see their new baby are all taken as a matter of course. To me they were part of the proper practice of medicine, but they were hard fought ideas when we first began to put them into practice. I am very grateful that I happened to be in the right place, at the right time, to help make the difference in how babies are delivered.”Soon, Karen had privileges at St. Johns and Santa Monica/UCLA and served on and chaired the Bio-ethics Committees at both hospitals. “Almost every issue we faced came up against the question of what treatment could we give and what treatment should we give. We often choose to stave off the natural progression of death at great emotional, personal and physical cost to our patients and to their families. These are not decisions based on economics, nor should they be. These decisions are part of the ethical practice of medicine and providing the best care possible for the patient.”Karen will now leave her practice in the able hands of her partners and move to New York with her life-partner, Anne. She hopes to be a hospice doctor in New York. “I see Hospice Care as the last frontier of medical ethics. To be by the side of the dying patient, to care about them and their families is a gift I, as a physician, can bring to this vulnerable group of patients. It is the continuation of my pursuit of the ethical practice of medicine.”
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