Compassionate Medical Students Elected to Gold Humanism Honor Society

Third-year M.D./M.P.H. student Armando Alvarez hadn’t considered a career as a physician until his sophomore year of college. “I actually started volunteering at San Juan Bosco Clinic and that’s where I started falling in love with medicine,” Alvarez said. “What attracted me to becoming a physician was seeing the medical students and the attendings serving these underserved communities, seeing how they showed the empathy and compassion that are so important in medicine.”

Dr. Robert W. Irwin, right, welcomes Armando Alvarez to the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

On April 17, years after that first experience, Alvarez joined 29 other University of Miami Miller School of Medicine students who were honored for demonstrating that essential empathy and compassion, as newly elected members of the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

“Nothing is more important than the behaviors this honor recognizes, the way physicians interact with their patients,” said interim Dean Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., in welcoming the students and their family members to the ceremony. “My congratulations for really doing the right thing, and doing it well.”

Robert W. Irwin, M.D., professor and interim Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, launched the national honor society’s Miller School chapter three years ago, and serves as its faculty advisor. “Medicine should be a calling – it is not a job,” Irwin told the students, who were selected for the honor by their peers.

“Humanism is the use of reason and ingenuity,” said keynote speaker Christine L. Curry, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “All of the hours you have spent learning are so that you can apply your reason, your knowledge to the patient’s problem, and in partnership with that person, come up with a solution that is at once from the books and the first of its kind.”

Curry encouraged the students to regularly consider some fundamental questions: Who are you? Who do you want to become? Who are you becoming by your actions?

“Your responsibility to improve the lives of patients through the use of reason and ingenuity does not stop at the patient in front of you,” she said. “Humanism recognizes your obligation and responsibility to society as a larger entity.

“As a physician, you see people in some of their most difficult and debilitating moments. As a physician, you are privy to the stories about humanity that so obviously demonstrate the interwoven intersections of pain, disease, poverty, life, joy, death, disparities, discrimination, politics and policy and the human.

“Your engagement in a society focused on humanism requires that the who you become is one who not only appreciates and understands these social complexities, but that you engage with them, you don’t look away even when the view is not pretty.”

Gauri G. Agarwal, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and Associate Regional Dean for Medical Curriculum, talked about the power of patient stories after accepting the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which also sponsors the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

“We discuss patient stories on rounds so that we may learn, and we write stories in journals so that others may learn,” Agarwal told the students. “And ultimately, stories can help maintain our empathy …

“The great privilege of our profession is that we have a chance to change the trajectory of lives, through science but also through love and seeing the divinity and beauty of everyone we encounter,” she said. “I hope all of you will surround yourselves with mentors who have maintained their love of medicine and that you will find the time to reflect on a daily basis on your work – you just need to sit in a quiet place and think of the stories you were privileged to hear that day.”

Parents in the room knew they were privileged to watch their sons’ and daughters’ dedication to patients being recognized. Armando Alvarez’s mother, Ani Martinez, is executive assistant to Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education. “As a parent you try to instill compassion and responsibility in your children,” Martinez said. “To see these goals extend into leadership is the greatest joy. For Armando to be selected as a role model and recognized for his great humanity is indeed an honor.”