Medical Detective, Patient Advocate - Robert Waterbor, MDBy: Roxanne Jones
Dr. Robert Waterbor characterizes his specialty – internal medicine – as a combination of psychology and good detective work. “You have to be able to diagnose whatever comes through the door,” he explains. “A big role we play is that of “triage agent” or “quarterback,” in that we have to identify whether a problem is medical, surgical or psychological, and then, use our judgment to decide how far to go in working up the patient. I love the challenge of getting to the bottom of things…you never know what kind of health issue you’ll be dealing with.”
A Philadelphia-area native, Dr. Waterbor graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard College. Not wanting to spend his life inside a lab, he sought a career with more connection with people, and opted for medical school. He received both a PhD in psychology and a MD from Duke University, where he completed his internship and residency in internal medicine.
His psychology degree serves him – and his patients – well in his everyday medical practice. “A small percentage of patients have psychological problems,” he explains. “You can have two different patients with the same medical problem, but you handle them differently when there are psychological issues.To treat patients effectively, you have to communicate well. Patients must feel comfortable with you.When a doctor understands the psychological issues, I think it enhances communication.”
Dr.Waterbor first came to the desert in the mid-1970s when he answered an ad in a medical journal for a position with a 30-person medical group in Palm Springs. He stayed with the group for just over 10 years before he opened his own private practice on the Eisenhower Medical Center campus in 1986. Dr.Waterbor currently serves as Eisenhower’s Section Chief of Internal Medicine and Secretary/Treasurer of Eisenhower’s Medical Staff.
In the three decades that he has been in practice, Dr.Waterbor has witnessed major changes in his profession. “Today, there is so much managed care and management of doctors by insurance companies,” he says. He acknowledges that managed care may have saved the medical system some money, but he also feels it has depersonalized the patient-physician relationship, and notes that he has chosen not to be an HMO provider. “I like the fact that my patients – not an insurance company – choose me for their care. When you’re independent, I think there is a premium placed on being a good diagnostician, and putting the patient first. I want to be that type of doctor.”
“I love what I do,” he says. “Every day is different. Yet some of my patients have been with me for as long as 20 years. They’re like family. I really value these long-term relationships.”
And when he’s not seeing patients? He likes to play tennis and golf, and he enjoys travel. “And at the end of the day, I appreciate the quiet time after work,” he says. “I’m happy to simply sit and gaze out at the mountains, clear my mind, and relax. It’s rejuvenating.”