OUR FAMILY’S DOCTOR is retiring. After 25 years of service to Givat Ze’ev, and 45 years in the profession, Dr. Rafael (Rafi) Hamburger, 71, was to have seen his last patient at the end of March. Ever since our aliyah in the summer of 1997, Dr. Hamburger has been there for our family—all seven of us. He treated our kids through their ear infections, he saw all of us through each winter’s rounds of colds and flu, he directed us to various medical specialists as needed, and seven years ago he was the point person to whom our son Ezra returned again and again for various prescription refills and forms as he was successfully treated for cancer.
I asked Dr. Hamburger to reflect upon his career as a family doctor. He told me: “Family medicine is the only true medicine. In family medicine you apply knowledge, accessibility (you have to be able to be reached at any time), and close contact with a patient and all their family, covering not only the medical aspects of their life but also the psychological, social, and economic aspects of the family. Over the years you come to treat four generations in a family; you treat children whose great-grandparents were also your patients.”
Such long-term relationships have distinct medical and social advantages. Dr. Hamburger says that he is often able to assess the seriousness of a person’s condition “by knowing their face and their behavior.” He adds: “You get to the point where you can help a patient in most situations, and even if they are hospitalized they can call you and get advice, and they don’t feel ‘orphaned’”—this is all part of what Dr. Hamburger calls “continuity of care.”
I asked Dr. Hamburger for a list of requirements for his job: “A good family doctor has to be a person who has warm feelings for other people and knows how to express these warm feelings; a person who is willing to be dedicated to their profession regardless of the hours, and be willing to continuously update their medical knowledge—whether through lectures, meetings or medical journals.”
Dr. Hamburger’s replacement is Dr. Mohamed Salem, an Arab physician who recently completed 18 months of training with Dr. Hamburger in Givat Ze’ev. I have heard talk that an Arab doctor is inappropriate for our West Bank town. To this Dr. Hamburger says, “Being Arab or Jewish is like being Ashkenazi or Sephardi: no origin says what a person is. Only because I know that Dr. Salem is coming did I allow myself to retire. I know this physician, his wife, and his children, and only because I know them well can I leave with a good feeling and the knowledge that I am not leaving a ‘burnt field’ behind me.”
Of his decision to retire Dr. Hamburger says, “It was not an easy decision not because you don’t work and might be bored or because your income will drop, but because you will not be doing what you like, what you are good at, and what you have been doing for many years.”
Being an American immigrant to this country, I know how rare it is to have the privilege of having a doctor who has treated one’s whole family with care, empathy and wisdom for 20 years. Dr. Hamburger told me that “there has to be something inside you that makes you go into family medicine.” What was this for him? “I’m happy to be with people. I love it.” Thank you Rafi Hamburger for being such a wonderful, loving doctor.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.