Natalie Spiller. Photo courtesy GLMS.
Natalie Spiller. Photo courtesy GLMS.

Natalie Spiller, a fourth-year student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, believes patients with mental health disorders need a physician’s empathy, compassion and best medical attention. In her experience, they do not always receive it.

Spiller’s essay on the topic won the Physician-in-Training/Student category in the eighth annual Richard Spear, MD, Memorial Essay Contest, sponsored by the Greater Louisville Medical Society. This year’s theme was: “What Drives you Crazy in Health Care?”

In her essay, Spiller calls attention to discrimination shown by health care professionals toward patients with mental health disorders. Spiller opens her piece by describing a situation in which a woman arrives alone in an emergency room with incoherent speech and disheveled appearance, along with a history of drug abuse and mental illness. While the physician-narrator assumes her symptoms were due to drugs or mental illness, it turns out the woman is suffering from a stroke. The patient dies.

“While our society is making its way to de-stigmatize the diagnosis of mental health disorders, we in the medical community have a long way to go in creating comprehensive medical care for those suffering from ‘invisible illness,’” Spiller wrote.

For the winning essay, published in the July issue of Louisville Medicine, Spiller received a plaque and $750 award at the 2017 GLMS Presidents’ Celebration in May.

The awards are named for Richard Spear, a respected Louisville general surgeon who also served on the faculty of the UofL School of Medicine. When he died in 2007, Spear left GLMS a bequest to fund the annual essay contest. Spear wished to support high quality writing about the practice of medicine.