STFM Humanism Award Talk

Hi everybody.  It’s such a great honor to be here, I am deeply grateful to be the recipient of this award.  I’d to thank Dr. John Saultz, who nominated me; my chair, Dr. Cindy Haq, who promoted my nomination; and all my colleagues who wrote extremely generous letters on my behalf.  This award is more than I deserve, but I humbly accept as it represents all that I have aspired to be during my entire professional career.

To be honest, when I applied for my job in the UC Irvine Department of Family Medicine in 1978, I had never heard of this specialty.  To compound matters, my future chair fell asleep during my interview presentation. Nevertheless, somehow I was hired into the department.

Although I started out embarrassingly ignorant about family medicine, the more I learned the more I realized how lucky I was to have landed here.  Here were doctors who understood the difference between a patient’s pain and a patient’s suffering, and weren’t afraid to talk about the latter.  Having grown up in a family beset by frightening chronic diseases, I realized I’d found a specialty that appreciated how illness reverberates throughout a family. Family medicine also cared about the lives of the severely underresourced patients whom they were committed to serving, which aligned with my desire to do what I could to advance equity and fairness in healthcare.

As my career developed, I discovered that it was not only patients and their families who suffer, but medical learners as well.  I became preoccupied with how we as medical teachers could how we could avoid the hypocrisy of preaching compassion and humanism toward patients, while being part of a system that too often ignored, demeaned, and even emotionally abused our future doctors. Much of my subsequent teaching and scholarship was devoted to changing these injustices.

Trained as a psychologist, I became convinced that the arts and humanities could provide a revelatory means for medical learners to better comprehend the human condition, therefore the condition of their patients and themselves. To the great credit of STFM, this organization consistently supported me in pursuing this unconventional path. My first papers on medical humanities were delivered at STFM, my first workshops on reflective writing were presented here as well.  I spent almost 20 years in one editorial capacity or another at STFM’s flagship journal, Family Medicine. The journal first gave me the opportunity to introduce a column that highlighted innovative curricular developments in medical humanities; and later, as an editor of the narrative essay section, I had the privilege of guiding hundreds of family physician and medical student authors in finding and expressing their voices and honing their storytelling craft.

Family medicine and STFM turned out to be a home that sheltered and anchored me while encouraging me to spread my wings; a home that helped me sort out what mattered most to me, and how to put my values and ideals into action.  Family Medicine and STFM are where I grew up as a person. I will be forever grateful for all the lessons I learned in this family, and all the love I found here.