Medical students vow to be worthy of patients’ trust

Keynote speaker Hernon urges students to not make their patients feel invisible

By Kristen O’Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

March 09, 2012

Members of the School of Medicine Class of 2014 reaffirmed their commitment to medicine and their patients, reciting an oath in front of family, friends and faculty during the Second-Year Oath ceremony on Thursday, March 8, at Mechanics Hall in Worcester. As they marked the transition from the classroom to the clinic in their medical education, the students vowed to “recognize it is a privilege to be entrusted with the care of another” and resolved to make themselves worthy of this honor. (Read the full Class of 2014 Second-Year Oath.)

Keynote speaker Christina H. Hernon, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, warned of the danger of placing patients into packages that can be easily dismissed. Dr. Hernon shared many anecdotes from her own experience, and from others she surveyed in preparation for her talk, focusing on how doctors who don’t take the time to connect with their patients make their patients feel invisible.

Hernon cautioned students that as they gain the skills necessary to be physicians, it is easy not to be fully present in a patient interaction. “This is a trap. It is not what your patients want or need. It is not what it means to be a doctor.”

Hernon offered simple steps to an effective patient experience, including making eye contact, introducing yourself and acknowledging everyone in the room. She also advised students to recognize that fear or pain is behind every patient complaint, their colleagues are essential sounding boards and contact with a patient should be “gentle but firm.”

“It is not too hard to change the patient experience in medicine. All it really requires is that you vow to do so,” she said.

Dean of the School of Medicine Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor in Medicine, executive deputy chancellor and provost, also emphasized the importance of being patient-focused. He related a humbling experience when he was a young doctor in training, when he failed to make a correct diagnosis because he made assumptions about a patient. “Under fire, we have to deliberately remember our oath and go one step beyond.”

Outstanding Medical Educator Awards were presented by Student Body Committee co-presidents Kathleen H. Goble and Sara-Grace Reynolds to Mark Dershwitz, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesiology and biochemistry & molecular pharmacology; Susan B. Gagliardi, PhD, professor of cell biology and neurology; Anne M. Gilroy, MA, associate professor of surgery and cell biology; William E. Royer, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology; and Vijay Vanguri, MD, assistant professor of pathology.

Chancellor Collins talks about the tradition of second-year oath in the video below