Back in the 1990s, when medical educators and residency program
directors expressed the need to recognize internship and residency
applicants with both outstanding clinical and interpersonal skills,
the Arnold P. Gold Foundation listened.
It created the Gold Humanism Honor Society
(GHHS) to honor select medical students,
residents, physician teachers and others for
“demonstrated excellence in clinical care,
leadership, compassion and dedication to
service” – in a word, humanism.
Which all sounds very nice until a medical student encounters
his or her first crack cocaine addict or grumpy senior citizen or
out-of-control child or otherwise uncooperative, unpleasant or
To help students prepare for that reality, this year GHHS applicants were asked to submit essays describing “a barrier a physician might face to practicing humanistic patient care” and how it might be overcome. Below are excerpts from some of the third-year DMU osteopathic students who were inducted in GHHS this spring. We trust they’ll be highly humanistic physicians.
With Martha, I realized that helping her was not putting her through surgery, chemotherapy or radiation to shrink the cancer. Helping Martha was…most importantly keeping her dignity and respecting her decision to die peacefully at home. Medicine is not always about providing a cure, but it is about showing compassion and providing care to each and every patient.
— Ashley Peters
Humanism encompasses being human yourself and allows you to grow as an individual with your patients. I think that to be truly humanistic is to allow yourself to be vulnerable with your patients and let them see some of your flaws. In the end, patients need to believe their physicians have a partnership with them in order to better their personal outcomes.
— Kelsi Froom
A housewife and mother of two, my patient developed depression and turned to drugs and alcohol to cope… In the emergency room, the doctor labeled her as “an abuser,” consulted psychiatry and moved on to his next patient…I could instantly tell that this woman was profoundly depressed and in a great deal of pain. While we spoke, she confessed how embarrassed she was of her actions. She told me she knew all the doctors assumed she was a terrible mother and wife, but that in reality she was quite functional; she used drugs and alcohol so her family would survive. As she lay in bed, crying, I told her that it was not my place to judge but rather to understand her and to do whatever was in my power to make her medical journey proceed toward healing and self-empowerment.
— Shai Feingold
Eventually the physician told me that [the patient’s] mother was trying to abandon him. This loving, curious and self-conscious nine-year-old boy had spent nine of the last 12 months in the hospital for minimal reasons. The last day of my rotation, the boy cried when I told him I would not be coming anymore. I choked up, too, knowing that everyone in his life has been a transient player. With my attending’s permission I decided to come back and see him a couple times in the evening that next week…When I showed up, he was very surprised. I told him I was there to play some games because he was a very “cool guy.” His eyes lit up.
— Tasha Beenken-Grimm
I was drawn to education for the same reasons that I decided to switch to medicine: the emphasis on using my skills and training to empower people by giving them control over their own lives… I believe that an essential part of being an effective physician is educating the patient. This is an important show of respect, for it not only lets the patient feel like more than a collection of symptoms, but gives them the tools to make their own effective decisions about their course of treatment.
— Alexandra Iannone
This year [at the Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Michigan] has shown me that the highest honor a medical student can receive is not a glowing evaluation from a preceptor or a resident, but for patients to request to be under your care. What higher honor is there for a physician?
— Charles “Jace” Taylor