by Jane Lenel
Sometimes going to the doctor is like being on trial. You present your symptoms, undergo questioning, are sentenced with a diagnosis and dismissed with a purse full of drugs whose names you can’t pronounce and whose curative powers you don’t understand.
However, if you live at Cathedral Village retirement community in upper Roxborough, your medical visit with Dr. Linda Tomko, 45, is different. She discards “judicial” formality, including the traditional doctor’s white lab coat, and pays no heed to the clock. She greets you like a friend and is all ears for your symptoms, no matter how many.
She discusses and explains her diagnosis and your treatment and sends you away not only understanding the mending process but able to spell the name of your medicine. When finished, she dashes off unceremoniously down Cathedral Village’s outpatient hall evidently eager to tend her next patient.
You might say this personal interest and manner are due to the fact that she knows you — one of about 375-400 residents — since she has been one of CV’s two staff doctors for 14 years and is board-certified for geriatric medicine. However, I believe it is more accurate to attribute it to her dedication to a humanitarian approach in all aspects of her medical practice.
According to Dr. Tomko, who grew up in Lansdale, “The doctor-patient relationship is very important. You need to know where people are coming from to get them on the right track. You have to have the right perspective and know what questions to ask, and patients need to be heard and given complete answers. I try to be as direct as possible, using simple language and approaching serious situations carefully at the correct moment.”
She says she decided on this approach when she set out on her 13-year stretch of medical studies: first, from 1984-1988, at Harvard (where she graduated magna cum laude), with emphasis on the history of science and the ethics of medicine; then four years, 1988-1992, at Thomas Jefferson Medical College (cum laude); followed by an internship and residency in the Department of Family Medicine at Jefferson University Hospital, 1992-1995; and the Department of Family Medicine with a Geriatric Fellowship at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, 1995-1997.
Her study of geriatrics, of course, was important for her practice at Cathedral Village, where residents’ ages climb from 65 through the 90s to a few over 100. “Aging ain’t for sissies,” she proclaims, repeating the ongoing observation of CV residents.
“Problems arise from the natural wearing down of the body as people grow older,” and her job is to alleviate the resultant aches and pains as much as is humanly possible.
She must also diagnose diseases, of course, and prescribe the proper treatment. “Doctors always have to keep learning; stay current and adapt to all the new changes in medicine,” she says, “though this is not too difficult with the internet and other technological advances.”
In addition to her other training, Dr. Tomko became certified in hospice care, which focuses on easing pain and offering personal care and support of patients’ needs in the last stages of their lives. This she does in CV’s Bishop White Lodge Skilled Nursing Facility, a separate section of the retirement community with about 200 patients.
“You have to make that part of life comfortable,” she stressed, “help people live their lives as well as possible. You have to know the possible drugs and how to use them. You need time to think and reflect and to see if your doctoring is helping.”
Along with her work at Cathedral Village, Dr. Tomko has added commitments as an instructor in the Department of Family Medicine at Jefferson, Associate Medical Director of the Hospice of the Home Care Network of the Jefferson Health System, and Medical Director of the Fairview Care Center of the Genesis Healthcare Corporation in Glenside.
But Dr. Tomko’s energy doesn’t flag at the end of the day. She goes home to Oreland where she starts again, focusing her care on her family: Anna, age 9, Graham 12, Ella, 15, and her husband Mark, an IT [information technology] Project Manager. She leaves her CV work behind but carries with her the practice of listening empathetically, usually during late dinners.