Gold Humanism Honor Society Celebrates 20th Anniversary

By Dirk Hoffman

Published April 17, 2024

UB’s Richard Sarkin Medical Emeritus Faculty Chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society (GHHS) celebrated its 20th anniversary during the 2024 induction of Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences medical students, residents, fellows and faculty.

“Being a proficient physician transcends medical knowledge and technical skills. It encompasses moral integrity, empathy and the ability to form genuine connections with patients and their families. ”
UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

The society is a program of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that strives to elevate the values of humanism and professionalism in medicine worldwide. It has 185 chapters around the world and more than 45,000 members.

UB’s more than 800 residents and fellows may nominate their peers for induction into a branch of the UB chapter, which is one of only 14 graduate medical education sections nationally that is affiliated with the society.

UB’s chapter was founded in 2004. This year’s ceremony was conducted April 9 in the M&T Auditorium in the Jacobs School building.

Serendipity — A Tale of Two Intersecting Stories

The origin of the Gold Humanism Honor Society’s existence in Buffalo is a tale of two intersecting stories.

In 2004, Leonard A. Katz, MD, professor emeritus of medicine, was chair of an Emeritus Faculty Society at the Jacobs School, when he attended a meeting in New York City.

At the meeting, he met Sandra Gold, wife of Arnold P. Gold, MD, a renowned pediatric neurologist, who had founded the Gold Humanism Honor Society two years earlier as part of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

“Mrs. Gold told me all about it and I immediately resonated with the concept. Humanism is a critical part of medical practice that recognizes that patients are people with feelings, beliefs and fears,” Katz said. “Doctors need to be skilled in the practice of scientific medicine, but they also need to be fully aware of patients as people and that medicine is a part of a large communal world.”

With the support of the emeritus medical faculty, Katz took this new idea to Margaret Paroski, MD, interim dean of the Jacobs School. Paroski took the idea to the school’s Executive Committee and the Gold Humanism Honor Society at UB was born.

“Some good things happen either by serendipity or chance and we should be open to those moments because amazing things can happen,” Katz said.

Unbeknownst to Katz, another similar initiative was also underway at the time — a student effort that engaged pediatrician Richard T. Sarkin, MD, EdM ’98.

Sadly, Sarkin died in a plane crash in October 2004 while en route to a medical conference in Kirksville, Missouri, to deliver a presentation on improving doctor-patient relations on behalf of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

Once it became known that two initiatives were underway, agreement was reached quickly to merge the two and have just one Humanism Society in Buffalo. The Society was named to memorialize the death of Richard Sarkin.

Judy and Leonard Katz, Marcia Sarkin and Allison Brashear.

From left, Judith Katz; Leonard A. Katz, MD; Marcia Sarkin; and Allison Brashear, MD, MBA.

Carrying Forward a Meaningful Legacy

Sarkin’s widow, Marcia, said her husband felt there must be more inspiring ways to teach. He wanted to teach others to be better teachers to help them relate more effectively to their patients and other faculty  — leading to the creation of the Teaching Effectiveness Program at UB.

Richard Sarkin completed a master’s program in education at UB, then created a new program with other physicians who wanted to improve teaching skills. He also served as president of a national organization — the Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics.

He met and collaborated with Steve Z. Miller, MD, who also died in the 2004 plane crash.

Miller was from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital where Arnold and Sandra Gold started the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the white coat ceremony.

Sarkin and Miller became the "traveling fellows” for the Gold Foundation and began speaking around the country.

“Rich was 6’5” and a large presence, but he would often sit or come to eye level with families or patients to soften two-way communication,” Marcia Sarkin said. “He instructed students and residents to do the same, along with introducing themselves and explaining who they were and why they were there.”

“Rich stressed the importance of truly listening to the patients, thus enabling them to develop a better medical history so they could care for the patient in the best way possible.”

Marcia Sarkin said she met her husband at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, where he was a resident and she was a Child Life specialist.

“Child Life was created to meet the psychosocial needs of patients and their families,” she noted.

“Rich felt humanism at its essence was treating a patient as a human, not as a diagnosis,” she said. “Humanism in medicine was so important to my family that we created the Richard T. Sarkin Foundation for Medical Education and Humanism in Medicine.”

“Its mission is to promote the humanistic practice of medicine, including idealism, altruism and compassion. I feel honored to have met so many incredible individuals over the years through my work on the Foundation and the UB Gold Humanism Honor Society. They are truly inspirational physicians.”

25 Medical Students Are Honored

Gregory S. Cherr, MD, professor of surgery, senior associate dean for graduate medical education and GHHS resident chapter co-adviser, was master of ceremonies for the event.

GHHS student chapter co-advisers David A. Milling, MD, executive director of the Office of Medical Education and senior associate dean for student and academic affairs; and Nicholas J. Silvestri, MD, professor of neurology and associate dean for student and academic affairs, introduced the medical student inductees.

The following Class of 2025 medical students were inducted:

  • Ademola Adegbemigun
  • Michael Augustin
  • Michelle Amankwah
  • Daniel Baetzhold
  • Acharya Balaji
  • Kwaku Bonsu
  • Cameron DeMott
  • Katelyn Donnelly
  • Sabrina Dunn
  • Katherine Foote
  • Dominique Galloway Revan
  • Nathaniel Gregory Graves
  • Kathryn Hobika
  • Nathaniel Ishakov
  • Joseph Iskander
  • Arsh Issany
  • Sasha Kogan
  • Catherine Lawton
  • Lily A. McGovern
  • Paul Mercado
  • Courtney Lynn Olbrich
  • Clayton Shanahan
  • Amanda Szarzanowicz
  • Lauren Todoro
  • Mary Yeh

15 Residents and Fellows Inducted

Cherr and GHHS resident chapter co-adviser Peter S. Martin, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry, introduced the resident and fellow inductees.

The following residents and fellows were inducted:

Honor Society Welcomes Faculty Members

Marcia Sarkin, Cherr and Milling introduced the following faculty members who were inducted:

Amanda Geiger, David A. Milling, MD, and Sarah Andres.

From left, medical student Amanda Geiger; David A. Milling, MD; and medical student Sarah Andres.

Two Students Win Goldstein Scholarships

Fourth-year medical students Sarah Andres and Amanda Geiger were awarded the Dr. Howard R. Goldstein ’74 Memorial Humanitarian Scholarship.

The annual award honors fourth-year medical students who demonstrate a humanitarian spirit and dedication to the welfare of others. 

Andres, who matched into an obstetrics and gynecology residency at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in Oceanside, NY, and Geiger, who matched into an emergency medicine residency at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine; also spoke about some of the chapter highlights.

Among the projects for the year were Thank-A-Resident Week in February and an M4 Pre-Match Day Retreat in March.

“For the retreat, GHHS members were able to organize breakfast, lunch, speakers and fun activities for the fourth-year students,” Andres said.

“It allowed everyone to spend a nice, relaxing day where we all could reflect back on our time at medical school.”

Residents Honored for Exemplifying Ideals

Two residents were awarded the Donald Cherr, MD, and Charles Schen, MD, Exemplary Patient-Care Award, which honors a resident or fellow who demonstrates an established record of exemplary humanistic, patient- and family-centered care.

Cherr practiced ophthalmology in Rochester and Schen practiced orthopaedic surgery in Buffalo. Both men were community physicians who cared deeply for their patients and families, and devoted their careers to providing humanistic, excellent patient-centered care, said Susan M. Orrange, PhD, assistant dean for education & resident services in the Office of Graduate Medical Education.

“Skilled in the art and science of medicine, they utilized warmth, sympathy, understanding and humility in addition to the requisite knowledge and skills to optimize their patients’ outcomes,” she said.

The winners of the award were:

Sheri L. Wagner, MD, holding a thank-you card.

Sheri L. Wagner, MD, shares some thoughts on humanism in medicine and talks about a thank you card she recently received from a patient’s family.

Pediatrician Receives Sarkin Teaching Award

Marcia Sarkin noted that after her husband died, UB established the Richard T. Sarkin Award for Excellence in Teaching to acknowledge the outstanding achievements of UB alumni who have earned a distinction as an educator.

“This year, in addition to her induction, as a surprise, we would also like to recognize faculty member, teacher and pediatrician Dr. Sheri Wagner as the 2024 recipient of the award,” she said.

Her nomination read in part, “Dr. Wagner consistently demonstrates tremendous empathy for her patients and their family members. She is a source of light and positivity on the floors at Oishei Children’s Hospital. Additionally, she gracefully advocates for her patients through complex social issues that are often faced by pediatric patients.”

Wagner, who was already on the event’s agenda to share some reflections on humanism in medicine, was humbled by the honor.

“Recognition for compassionate care, being a role model for the human connection in health care — it honors everything that I try to exemplify in my career as a physician-teacher.”

“What is even more special for me is that Dr. Richard Sarkin was one of my role models when I was a medical student here at UB,” Wagner said. “I remember him reminding us to crouch down when we talk to little kids, so we don’t frighten them. To be considered in the same league as Dr. Sarkin 20 years later is surreal, and I wrote that before I knew I was getting this special honor today, so thank you again.”

Wagner then told the story of a family whose son she recently took care of and the mother asking her for a note to give to the airlines so they could cancel their upcoming trip to Mexico.

“I remember thinking I would totally want to take my kid to Mexico for some R&R after all this, but I did not want be too forward and promise this kid white-sand beaches if mom was set on canceling the trip.”

“I was not sure where her mind was at exactly, so I pulled her out into the hall to discuss it a little further and it turned out she totally still wanted to go to Mexico.”

A few weeks later, Wagner received a thank you card from the family, which read: “We just cannot thank you enough for your honesty and thoughtful planning and teamwork.”

And then in all capitals, the mother wrote: “WE WENT TO MEXICO AND HAD A GREAT TIME.”

“Although I cannot send all my patients to a tropical paradise, I carry this as an example as what we can do when we take a humanistic approach,” Wagner said.

“To be recognized as a physician of this caliber, both by this family, and by my peers in this esteemed Society, is a career-high for me. Thank you.”

Group of people talking in M&T Auditorium.

The “Tell Me More” quick connection tool got people engaged in conversation. The initiative is designed to strengthen the bond between patients and health care providers.

Connecting With Patients Through Sharing

Orrange told the audience about the Gold Foundation’s “Tell Me More” initiative, which is a tool that allows patients, caregivers and hospital staff to connect with each other on a more human level.

It was originally designed by medical students to strengthen the critical bond that exists between people who are patients and the individuals who care for them.

She asked the audience to fill out Tell Me More posters and have impromptu discussions with the people seated near them.

The posters ask respondents to fill in answers to such questions and topics as “way friends describe me,” “things I’m grateful for,” “favorite holiday memory” and “place I like to relax.”

“Take this forward and do this with a patient, post it in the room. We hear these posters are really meaningful to the patients,” Orrange said. “Often, the family will take the posters when them when the patients leave the hospital. You can appreciate how powerful this can be.”

Dean Reflects on Humanism in Medicine

Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, also shared some thoughts on humanism in medicine.

“The essence of humanism is how we deeply, deeply connect with our patients. It’s not about the EMR you are typing in, the prescriptions or the tests,” she said. “It’s about seeing the patient as a whole person. It is also often about seeing their family, who are oftentimes there by their side.”

“It is really a privilege to be let into people’s lives and the heart of humanism is really what makes being a physician so special,” Brashear added.

“Being a proficient physician transcends medical knowledge and technical skills. It encompasses moral integrity, empathy and the ability to form genuine connections with patients and their families.”

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