Dr. Sean Malee doesn't fit the traditional mold of a physician.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of profiles about people who are working to make the community a better place. Dr. Sean Malee doesn't fit the traditional mold of a physician. The young hospitalist at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta drives a beat up pickup truck and spends his free time rock climbing, exploring the slopes of Mt. Shasta and enjoying the company of his wife, Yvonne, and two daughters, Zoe and Logan. “I'm not driven to make money,” said Malee, who is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “I've always been interested in biology and nature, and I wanted to do something that's real.” Malee is following in the footsteps of his father, who was a small town doctor in Trinity County, where he grew up. “He delivered babies at home and cross country skied into homes to see patients,” said Malee. “So I've always been familiar with the role of a doctor, and no matter what, I knew I was going to live in the mountains.” An internal medicine doctor by training, as a hospitalist Malee provides care to admitted adults who don't require surgeries. If you have a heart attack or are hospitalized with pneumonia, you will be treated by Malee or his partner, Dr. Dave Barry, rather than your primary physician. This system saves time for practitioners who find it difficult to leave their south county office to see just one patient, he explained. Because he's at the hospital all day and “at the nurses' fingertips,” patients receive better and more efficient care because nurses aren't stuck by the phone waiting for their doctor's call. It's a niche Malee carved at Mercy 10 years ago, he said. He and Barry are currently searching for a third person to share the role. While saving lives is the main focus of his job, Malee is also the medical director of Mercy Hospice, which provides palative care for dying patients. And that's where his passion lies. “It's hard to believe that caring for the dying is the most satisfying part of my job, but it is,” Malee said. “The most common complaint I hear from dying patients is why no one told them about (hospice) sooner... It's amazing the functional and cost effective care hospice provides for people who are suffering so deeply. Sadly, there's not enough information given out about hospice.” Malee said people often don't realize there is another option to myriads of painful treatments and surgeries, and that making the decision to die is not “giving up” or “quitting.” “If the goal is to get treatment and live happy and healthy for another 10 years, that makes sense. But if it's to go through this terrible procedure to live an extra month, hospice provides something else. It's a way for people to live comfortably and enjoy their lives,” Malee said. “I don't like the phrase, 'There's nothing more we can do for you.' There is always something more we can do to make a person comfortable.” Malee said it's rewarding to see patients go home to spend time with their family and have “a peaceful dying process.” “You never hear people say, 'I want to die on the operating table' or 'I want to die on life support.' You ask most people and they say they want to die at home with the people they love. That's their wish, and that's what hospice is for.” If Malee could change one thing in the medical world, he said he'd promote open dialogue about death in attempt to dispel fear of the inevitable. “Dying is as natural as being born. It's an inevitable consequence of being alive. It's not something that needs to be removed and made scary, and it doesn't have to happen in a hospital.”