Dr. Joshua Hauser’s Inspiring Keynote on Medicine’s Delicate Balance of Compassion and Science.
St. George’s University School of Medicine (SGUSOM) officially welcomed a new class of 417 medical students to its Grenada campus on January 25, 2009. This was a highly qualified class of students from 27 countries. Keynote speaker Dr. Joshua Hauser drew upon an extensive career in Palliative Care and Medical Ethics, providing invaluable insight into medicine’s delicate balance of compassion and science. Dr. Reginald Abraham, a board certified cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon in Southern California and a graduate from St. George’s University’s School of Medicine Class of 1990, served as Master of Ceremonies.
Dr. Joshua Hauser, a graduate of Harvard Medical School in 1995, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Palliative Care at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University; Director of Education at the Buehler Center on Aging, Health and Society; and Director of the Education on Palliative and End of Life (EPEC) Project.
Since a central part of the White Coat Ceremony showcases students swearing a professional oath, promising to act with integrity and in an ethical manner during their training and career in medicine, the selection of Dr. Hauser to deliver the keynote address was most appropriate. Though he himself had admittedly never participated as a student in a White Coat Ceremony, his interpretation of its symbolism and how that has applied throughout his career offered these future physicians an interesting and important perspective; one that relies on caring, compassion, and science as the foundation of medicine.
The Keynote Address
As a palliative care physician and an internist, Dr. Hauser’s clinical work focuses on quality of life, symptom control and support for seriously ill patients and their families. Dr. Hauser explained that since many of his patients are dying, they and their families are faced with many difficult and emotional decisions. “One of the things that I love about palliative care is that there are often very specific medical things to do and think about…and there are also opportunities to help patients and families deal with something that I sometimes call ‘the big picture’.” Here-in lays the delicate and crucial balance of caring and compassion and medical science. In palliative care, Dr. Hauser explained, symptom management is the science, and helping patients and families cope with illness and dying is the caring and compassion part.
To this, Dr. Hauser added five more recently recognized values and behaviors he has embraced: curiosity; a tolerance for uncertainty; humor; passion; and service. Beginning with curiosity, he explained that practicing medicine is “fundamentally about entering into other people’s lives,” whether figuratively as does a psychiatrist or literally as by an internist. Dr. Hauser continued, “All physicians…require motivation in the form of curiosity: a curiosity that motivates you to want to know about someone’s life, to dig deeper into their situation or to perfect an operation.” Drawing upon personal experiences, Dr. Hauser explained that being curious will not only help diagnose a patient’s illness but has a direct benefit for the physician. Very often, he explained, asking a patient a few simple questions about themselves, their life and family, will inspire us to reflect on our own lives, seeing the humor and the sadness, and most importantly keep us engaged in the work.
Uncertainty, said Dr. Hauser is an inevitability of medicine and accepting the uncertainty will help bring you closer to your patient and your colleagues. In emphasizing the need for humor in the profession, Dr. Hauser made reference to his specialty of palliative care, which is by definition not supposed to be funny. This is precisely why humor is so necessary, as it is frequently through humor that a physician can connect with a patient and perhaps improve not only their day, but his own.
In closing, Dr. Hauser acknowledged that the role these characteristics play in their lives will change and evolve over time, but he encouraged them to keep them at the forefront as they begin their education and reflect upon them continuously throughout their careers.
SGU’s 1990 graduate, Dr. Abraham, was an entertaining and humorous master of ceremonies. He connected with the entering class with heartfelt words of his own and he exhorted them to work hard and develop confidence in what they do and compassion for their patients. Dr. Abraham’s particular interest in minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgery and off pump bypass surgery (OPCAB) is the subject of his many lectures. He is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Cardiology, and the American College of Chest Physicians, as well as a board member of the American Heart and Stroke Association. Dr. Abraham has conducted extensive research and published in the fields of ulcer, cardiovascular medicine, cardiac physiology and robotics in cardiac surgery. His current interests are in global investment and development in innovative technologies, building and growing state-of-the-art heart institutes.
Dr. Hauser has held numerous leadership roles in national efforts in Palliative Care and Medical Ethics, and has been recognized with the International Society for the Advancement of Humanistic Studies in Medicine’s Young Physicians Award for Humanism and the Department of Medicine’s Teaching Award by Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University.
He has served as past chairman of a National Institutes of Health study section on research ethics; past co-chairman of the program committee for the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities; and a current member of the ethics committee for the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. His research, which focuses on the development of strategies to support family caregivers in palliative care, has been published in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals including JAMA; the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management; Journal of Palliative Care; andAcademic Medicine. Dr. Hauser has also dedicated his services to many different volunteer positions, including as a physician at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans and the Maria Shelter, a physician advisor for the Southside Sarcoidosis Support Group, and a volunteer physician for Connections for the Homeless in Evanston, Illinois.
Welcoming Family and Friends
The University was equally excited to have over 100 of these students’ family members participate in the “Beyond Spice” Parents’ Weekend, an opportunity to showcase the True Blue campus facilities and the Island. Family members from as far off as Ireland, the United States, and Canada were invited to informative and culturally entertaining events, such as: campus and Island tours, an orientation cruise, student and faculty presentations, question and answer sessions. All were designed to enhance their comfort level and familiarity with the University. The success of the previous two Parents’ Weekends reinforces the innate value of such an event. The faculty and staff at St. George’s University plan to incorporate this endeavor into future White Coat Ceremony events.
Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) Induction
The White Coat Ceremony also welcomed the 2008 inductees into SGUSOM’s Chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS). Each year, a group of peer-nominated students who demonstrate humanistic characteristics during their time in medical school, including mentoring skills, community service, and observance of professional ethics, receive this award. Congratulations to the 2008 Inductees:
Peter J. Lee
Sara Safarzadeh Amiri
The Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) was established in 2002 by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to foster and acknowledge humanism among medical students. The GHHS has been established at 47 US medical schools and three international medical schools since its inception. St. George’s University became one of the three in 2005.