In Memoriam: Michael Palmer, MD, Physician Health Pioneer

Michael Palmer, MD

Michael Palmer, MD

Michael S. Palmer, MD, one of the nation’s leading authorities on physician health and a founding associate director of Physician Health Services, died yesterday. He was 71 years old.

In addition to his trailblazing work on physician health, Dr. Palmer was an accomplished author of 17 suspense novels, including several New York Times bestsellers. His work has been translated into 35 languages.

At the time of his death, Dr. Palmer was an associate director emeritus of Physician Health Services, and was still very actively involved in the organization.

He spoke openly about his own recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. In a 1996 New York Times article he said, “You’re taught from the day you start medical school that you’re a god, that you can have power over life and death. So when your life starts to crumble and the highest power you see is looking back in the mirror — and you know that power is flawed — it is very hard to get past that. …The doctor’s intelligence is often a barrier to recovery. But once he gets into recovery, it’s a huge asset because he sees the logic.”

Here is what colleagues and friends are saying today about Dr. Palmer:

“Dr. Palmer was remarkable about how openly and courageously he shared his struggles about losing control of his life early in his career due to problems with alcohol and drugs. What was more remarkable, however, was how he transformed his own challenges in dealing with these issues into an exquisite sensitivity and capacity to gain the trust and confidence of fellow physicians who suffered the same challenges that he overcame. He did this by providing compassionate direction and wisdom to help others to achieve recovery, change, and growth in their own life.”

– E. J. Khantzian, MD, President and Chair, Physician Health Services

“Michael was, and still is, the spiritual godfather of Physician Health Services. He possessed a unique combination of selflessness, keen intelligence, and compassion. His bottom line was to do what was in the best interest of physicians and patients, and he always stepped up to be helpful in the most trying of circumstances. His loss opens up a void that can never be filled; his legacy will help us to redouble our efforts to emulate the many examples he set.”

– Steven Adelman, MD, Director, Physician Health Services

“Michael was to me bigger than life. He was accomplished in so many areas; a famous best-selling author, a talented musician, a bridge player, a caring physician, a power of example, and so much more. Yet he truly personally cared about each and every one of us he encountered on his journey. I cannot fathom his not always being here.”

– Judith Eaton, MD, Associate Director Emerita, Physician Health Services

“Michael was one of a very small number of physicians who stepped up in the late 1980s to create  the original Committee on Physician Health, the predecessor to PHS.  He and Bernie Levy (and maybe one or two others) spent huge amounts of time educating Board members and staff about voluntary disclosure and treatment models that provide more public safety than 100% reliance on BORIM discipline.  You have to remember or imagine a world without PHS; it wasn’t pretty. He was one of the laboring oars that convinced the BORIM do a 180. What a loss.”

– Andrew Hyams, attorney, and General Counsel to the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine, 1985-1990

Dr. Palmer served as a clinical instructor in medicine at Tufts University and was on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine. He graduated from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and received his M.D. degree with honors from Case Western Reserve University. Following an internship and residency on the Harvard Medical Service of Boston City Hospital, he completed a senior residency at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Funeral for Michael S. Palmer
Sunday, Nov. 3, 2:00 p.m.
Stanetsky-Hymanson Memorial Chapel
10 Vinnin Street
Salem, MA 01970   |   (781) 581-2300

Reception to follow:
38 Outlook Road
Swampscott, MA

  1. Emmanuel N. Pothos, Ph.D. says:

    Michael taught in the Addiction Medicine course at Tufts University School of Medicine for many years. One of the most effective and beloved members of the teaching faculty, he will never be forgotten by our students as he laid out for them his personal odyssey in Medicine and gave them the tools to navigate the challenge of chemical dependency and the even bigger challenge to find meaning from within in their mission as physicians. On behalf of the Tufts community, farewell Michael, we will never forget you and what you taught us.

    Emmanuel N. Pothos, PhD
    Director, Graduate Program in Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
    Course Director, Principles of Addiction Medicine
    Tufts University School of Medicine

  2. Kenneth c. Edelin, M.D. says:

    Michael was a dear friend, colleague and teacher. He and I spent several years giving lectures and conducting seminars for entering first year medical students at Boston University School of Medicine during their orientation during the week before their formal classes began. Michael would paint the picture of the medical student and physician entangled in the web of Substance abuse and dependency – how to avoid it and recognize it once the web had been spun. My goal was to outline for these aspiring physicians the many ethical delimmas they would face daily in their practices while caring for their patients.

    I learned a lot from Michael and will miss him terribly.

  3. Wayne Gavryck, MD says:

    I could not express how much Michael meant to PHS any better than Drs Khantzian, Adelman and Eaton. We both share a commitment and devotion to helping addicted physicians. More than that, Michael was to me a brother in a fellowship that saved both of our careers and possibly our lives. I feel a deep sense of sadness and loss that I know time will lessen. The one thing that I will never forget is the connection and honesty that only two brothers can know.
    Michael, you will be missed by so many of us but your love will always be in our hearts.

    Wayne Gavryck, MD
    Associate Director, PHS

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