Aug. 10, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 32


Making the Rounds


Compassion topic of White Coat address

Photo of Witz and Tsai Dr. Craig Witz, ob-gyn, assists John W. Tsai, MS-I, as he proudly puts on his white coat during the fifth annual Medical Dean's Convocation and White Coat Ceremony held in the auditorium.

This year's White Coat Ceremony welcomed UTHSC medical students to the profession, but it also may have stirred their souls.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Javier Kane from the department of pediatrics, spoke about the care of children suffering from life-limiting and terminal illnesses. "These children and their families teach us in very clear ways the importance of humanism in medical practice," he said.

Dr. Kane, who this year won the Humanism in Medicine Award from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, said one of the major challenges is to care for the sick with compassion — even in today's highly advanced and technological medical practice. "Humanism is not a luxury in modern practice, but a necessity," he said.

He urged students to have a passion to minimize suffering. This involves learning treatment skills, addressing patients as unique individuals, showing concern for well-being, strengthening families, and assisting in the search for purpose and meaning.

"Recognize the important role that you have in the maintenance and management of hope," Dr. Kane said.

He recalled the role he played with David, a teenager with incurable and progressive cancer. The physician and parents became co-workers who set goals in his care. A team of physicians, nurses, psychologist and chaplain helped David through his struggles. The goal changed over time, from seeking a cure to prolonging life to providing comfort.

David lived to be 19, a time when young people are in college, jobs or the military. "Two days before he died I visited him at home," Dr. Kane said. "He told me that he was ready to die. He said he had lived a full and meaningful life and that it was time to leave. He said it would not be long before he went to heaven."

David came to terms with his situation and, in the process, left a legacy of love, joy and togetherness, Dr. Kane said. "We have learned that suffering and death are not medical problems to be solved, but mysteries to be experienced. David pulled the best out of us. Through his suffering he made us more loving and giving."

Such experiences teach physicians that neither science nor humanism alone can alleviate or minimize the suffering that results from serious diseases. They are inter-related and complementary. "We have learned that suffering is a profoundly personal experience. It is a part of our human nature and we must not be afraid of it. Indeed, love and suffering are the stuff that life is made of and as such, are necessarily a matter of great medical interest. We have learned that applied science in the treatment of disease must never be apart from compassionate patient care," Dr. Kane said.

An estimated 1,000 students, parents, siblings and faculty attended the fifth White Coat Ceremony. About 200 students enter the Medical School each summer, and the ceremony fosters the spirit of joining the medical profession and taking the mantle of providing comfort and care.

Dr. Nan Clare, senior associate dean, led recitation of the Physician's Oath. Dr. Linda Johnson, cellular and structural biology, led a tribute to the first patient — the person who has willed his or her body to the Health Science Center. "She pointed to the beauty of the gift this person has made — the education of future physicians," said Dr. Leonard Lawrence, associate dean for student affairs.

Dr. Steven A. Wartman, executive vice president for academic and health affairs and dean of the Medical School, extended best wishes to the students and a sendoff to their new profession.

Photo ofmedical students
After receiving their white coats and Arnold P. Gold Foundation pins, medical students recite the Physician's Oath of Hippocrates.