Thomas Goodman, MD, is an internist and rheumatologist who initially considered becoming a family physician and, after his fellowship, was committed to research. But Dr. Goodman changed paths and has been practicing a mix of primary care and rheumatology at Groton Medical Associates for 17 years, where he appreciates the enduring relationships with his patients and his colleagues.
After graduating from the University of Texas, you moved to the Boston area for training. What was that like?
I met my wife in Dallas, and she wanted to return to New England. So I did my residency at the former New England Deaconess Hospital. I came to an older city with a heritage of education, and I was drawn to that, because this was where some of the best training was happening. However, one of the things I learned in Boston was how good my education was in Texas. As a medical student at Parkland Hospital — one of the largest public hospitals in the U.S. — we did everything: examine urine, collect blood and care for a lot of indigent people with advanced presentations of disease. Boston was a much more controlled environment with private services where physicians owned the patient.
How did you become attracted to rheumatology?
I originally planned to become a family physician but gravitated towards internal medicine because I really enjoy systems, being able to take care of everything, and I wanted to help patients with all the worries about their health. During my residency I became attracted to rheumatic disease, which was fascinating because we didn’t know a lot about it. And in order to be good at rheumatology, you had to be good at internal medicine. I liked that aspect of it. Then there was the human side — all the people who were suffering because their joints were killing them. In rheumatology, you have to touch the patient, taking their hands in your hands and trying to comfort them.
You completed a fellowship in arthritis at Mass General.
Yes, and I stayed on to do clinical trials at the inception of the biologic medication era. It was around 1995, and I was lucky enough to be involved in the trial of Enbrel, which became a blockbuster drug. Recruiting patients was easy, and the results were very gratifying. We had so many patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and other rheumatic diseases who had tried and failed therapies such as methotrexate, gold injections, prednisone and cyclosporine.
Then you decided to leave the academic world.
Yes. I stayed there for three years, but we were living in Sterling, had five kids, and I was commuting to Boston. One day my wife said: why are you doing this? By 2000, I had joined Emerson. I realized I wanted to take care of patients, and I wanted to be a good doctor. Research pulls you away from that, because you’re writing papers and traveling. You serve a different master. As interesting as clinical trials were, relationships matter to me, and I wanted to practice medicine.
Is Groton Medical Associates a good setting for your clinical interests?
Yes. I see a wide spectrum of patients, including healthy primary care patients, along with people who have rheumatic conditions and osteoarthritis. I am happy to take rheumatology consults. I have stable, enduring relationships with my colleagues, Dr. Dorothy Christiansen and Dr. Bill Heinser; we respect each other. We have three full-time nurse practitioners and provide evening hours three nights a week, which enables us to see people who work during the day. We’ve expanded into telemedicine, which has potential, and I’m pleased to have Emerson Urgent Care down the road in Littleton. Patients get sick, need access to appropriate care, and an emergency room is often not appropriate.