Translating Doctor Speak: Circle Advocacy

By Yemi Hailemariam 

We have a new member joining us at the Coalition: Circle Advocacy, founded by Judy Korik Weinstock, a practicing physician and patient advocate. Judy spoke to us about the experiences that drove her to create this organization, dedicated to supporting patient agency and well-being.Circle Advocacy Logo 2

Judy traces her drive for her work to her childhood and holds her role as a physician as a crucial part of her identity, alongside being a mother and a daughter. Her first “real job” was almost prophetic: she recalls her time working as a waitress in a nursing home as one of the experiences that called her later to palliative care. She started her career in healthcare by considering nursing before ultimately deciding to go into medicine, where she found that she liked all the specializations and eventually selected the sweet spot that was family medicine. She eventually shifted from being a primary care physician to hospitalist, which she enjoyed tremendously. Years along this professional path brought on a move to New York City before returning to the Boston area for a palliative care fellowship, where Judy currently lives and works.

When discussing her motivations for creating Circle Advocacy, Judy recounts her own family’s story. She was the child of the Russian refugees, living in a wealthy white suburb of Boston. She describes her family as outsiders in that community, distinctly different in their cultural and socioeconomic experiences. These differences became even more noticeable when she was in medical school and her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As the first “American” in the family, the proverbial “password child” and the healthcare professional in the family, she stepped in as the health care agent for her father and grappled with decisions such as long-term care facilities and the financial burden that came with the diagnosis—all part of a time she describes as “traumatic” for both her and her family. Despite the fact that she was an early-career physician then, her family struggled to find care for her father that was aligned with his culture and his condition. She recalls that it took multiple stints at mental health institutions and emergency room visits before her father was finally admitted to a hospital where they met a palliative care doctor. To Judy’s relief, this doctor said so plainly, “We are going to take care of you, we are going to take care of him.” 

Her family’s experiences with the healthcare system is what Judy described as “knee-jerk medicine,” siloed in such a way that can, at times, do more harm than good. These observations were cemented further years later during the COVID-19 pandemic. Judy, who practices at Emerson Hospital and Care Dimensions, found herself extending herself to patients and families who needed more support than she usually provided. It was this work that she eventually channeled into the creation of Circle Advocacy.

When asked to describe Circle Advocacy, Judy highlights a single word: translation. She credits her translation skills to the fact that she has experienced both sides, as a scared and frustrated family member and as a well-meaning but strained physician. She notes that people often have multiple treating clinicians that aren’t talking to each other, so her role is to ask the important questions, “[stick her] nose everywhere,” and translate the responses to her patients. She recounts, with a measure of emotion, patient testimonials, families that have shared that they had nowhere to turn to before she patiently talked them through their options. These kinds of experiences, needs, and hopes shines through so much of our consumer research. 

When asked about the long-term goals for her work, Judy shares that she doesn’t want to grow her business but, rather, she hopes to serve as a model for others. It is what excites her about joining the Coalition as well, the prospect of having a network of like-minded people focused on the collective goal of holistic and humane healthcare that centers the well-being, voices, and needs of patients.