When I asked Vietnam Army Veteran Rufus how he felt about Dr. Cheng, he paused. For a very long time. Then tears filled his eyes and he whispered, “He saved my life. He’s a great doctor. One of the best. I wouldn’t have another doctor.”
Vietnam Marine Corps Veteran George feels the same way. Also through an emotional whisper, he said, “One more day and I would have been dead except for Dr. Cheng. He’s better than good. You won’t find a better doctor.”
Dr. Jianhua Cheng has been a staff physician in primary care at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, for 14 years. Although he does not want this story to be about him, it probably will be, in spite of his reminding me a dozen times that he is just part of a great team.
Dr. Cheng quickly points out that “We are here to provide the best medical care for our Veterans for their service to our country. We work together as a team, the doctors, the nurses, staff, social workers, everybody. We just want to do what we can to do our best, second to none. That is our guiding principle.”
A native of Wuhan, China, he received his degree in biochemistry from Oxford University in 1991, fulfilling a family dream. “My father had a dream to be a physician but he did not realize it so I wanted to continue his dream.”
The soft spoken Dr. Cheng explained his philosophy. “When you get in the medical field, you realize it is not just the physical but it is also the soul and the mind. We are human beings, we are not just a body. If you have a bond with the patient, they really appreciate that.”
But, please. Make this story about the great team here in Augusta.
And why all the praise and affection from his patients?
“I see all my patients as a family member. I respect them and I treat them like my father and mother wanted to be treated. Sometimes you go to the doctor and you feel uneasy, you feel nervous, even me. I want my patients to feel very comfortable and open, to be able to talk to me, with no hesitation. Then you can really help them.”
Continuing the family tradition, one of his sons is going to be a dentist, graduating from the University of Georgia with honors. “We are very proud.” His other son also wants to pursue a medical career.
They will have big shoes to fill for Dr. Cheng has not missed one day of work in his entire professional career, including the 14 years at the Augusta VA Medical Center.
I asked him what about those days when you’re exhausted or don’t feel inspired enough to come to work, he quickly pointed out that “There are Veterans who may have to drive for two hours to get here. How could I not be here for them? When I do a job, I want to give 100 percent commitment.”
On an average day, Dr. Cheng will see 10 to 15 patients. “They did a survey of the actual hours physicians work and it was 50 to 60 hours a week when you include all of the paperwork and other follow through tasks we do. I don’t think the public knows this.
“But we do this. We should do this. Because of what our Veterans did for our country.”
When asked about the heart felt testimonials by the Veterans at the beginning of this article, Dr. Cheng also became emotional as he explained the satisfaction he feels when patients send their thanks.
“I had one patient who told me the cardiologist said Dr. Cheng saved his life because he listened. He had told me one small thing, that he was always short of breath and so I ordered the heart work up. They found that he had major blockage and admitted him to the hospital for treatment.
“Later, his family called me to say thank you and to let me know that I had treated their father as family member. That is my reward.”
“But, please. Make this story about the great team here in Augusta, all the other physicians and the nurses and the staff and the compassion we all feel for our Veterans.”
Okay, Dr. Cheng. We’ll do that.