8 Questions with… Dr. Jillian Horton

“8 Questions with…” is a Gold Foundation series spotlighting members of the Gold community – doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals of all kinds, students, corporate and hospital leaders, patients, family members, Trustees, staff members, and supporters.

We are delighted to introduce you to Dr. Jillian Horton, physician-author, humanistic thought leader, award-winning medical educator, and sought-after speaker and teacher of mindfulness for clinicians across the globe.

Dr. Horton is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the Health Sciences Centre and the University of Manitoba. Her writing on medicine and medical culture appears regularly in the LA Times, the Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Maclean’s, and a variety of American news outlets by syndication. She hosts the novel series Arts, Medicine, Life at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

In 2020, Dr. Horton was awarded the Gold Humanism award by the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada for her national contributions to compassion in clinical care and her leadership in the field of humanities in medical education. Her first full-length book, “We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing,” was released by HarperCollins Canada in February 2021 to critical acclaim, and is a national bestseller.

Dr. Horton will be one of the featured speakers at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit: The Person in Front of You. Learn more and register.

What drew you into healthcare?

Growing up with my sister, who lived with profound disabilities, I saw the difference healing interactions with healthcare made in her life — as well as the damage done by indifference and a lack of compassion. I couldn’t not use that knowledge to try to make and be the change.

The Gold Foundation defines humanism in healthcare as three elements: compassion, collaboration, and scientific excellence. Why does humanism in healthcare matter to you?

Credit: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

You can’t be an excellent physician without also being a great communicator and a compassionate person patients can attach to. I think attachment is the most under appreciated element of the clinical relationship.

Who is one of your role models of humanism and why?

I am a huge fan of Alan Alda. Yes, he’s an actor, but he’s also a phenomenal communicator, and brings compassion and authenticity to everything he touches. I modeled a lot of my clinical personae on “Hawkeye” from M*A*S*H without even knowing it. (Watch Dr. Horton in conversation with Alan Alda in a Gold Human InSight Webinar.)

What is one thing you do every day to care for your well-being?

Walk my dog. That’s my thinking time, my breathing time, time to metabolize whatever has happened during the day.

What is one lesson you learned from a patient?

Think about your actions in terms of whether you are borrowing from your future or investing in it.

What is your happy place and why?

The forest by our cabin. I breathe in and everything difficult melts away. I get to recalibrate there.

What is one book you’d recommend to patients and/or clinicians?

I really love Kate Bowler’s book Everything happens for a reason…and other lies I’ve loved. It’s a window into what healthcare can do, but also into what it should do and sometimes doesn’t.

If you were stranded on a desert island for a week, what three items would you want with you?

Something to write, strong coffee, and — obviously — sunscreen.

Thank you, Dr. Horton! Hear Dr. Horton speak at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit in Atlanta. Learn more and register.

If you have suggestions for someone we should spotlight, please email Irene Zampetoulas at izampetoulas@gold-foundation.org. Read more interviews in the “8 Questions with ….” series.

Gold Foundation Staff