For Dr. Julpohng “JP” Vilai, the Golds have been an inspiration for 20 years

In this reflection, Dr. Vilai shares how he first met Drs. Arnold and Sandra Gold and how they helped shape his career in medicine. 

Recently, I was grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with Dr. Sandra Gold at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit and shared a special moment that was captured in an event photo. Drs. Arnold and Sandra Gold have unknowingly been a source of anchoring and stability for me over the years. They embodied the spirit of humanism in medicine and were a personal inspiration.

Dr. Sandra Gold holds a photo from 2004 of Dr. JP Vilai at his GHHS induction, where Dr. Gold spoke. The two were reunited at the 2024 Gold Humanism Summit in Atlanta.

Nearly 20 years ago, Dr. Sandra Gold was a special guest at our Gold Humanism Honor Society induction ceremony at the University of Nevada Reno School of Medicine in 2004. I really had no idea who she was at the time, but it was obvious that she had a calm, kind, and inclusive manner that was contagious. And her hats are amazing!

In the photo she is holding, Dr. Gold is congratulating me on my induction into GHHS as a medical student. Shortly after that, I was nominated to the GHHS Advisory Council and served as a medical student member. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Arnold P. Gold and many of the founding stakeholders of the Gold Foundation at a biennial meeting in Chicago, and it was inspiring to belong to an organization that celebrated humanism and inclusion.

As a student from a smaller medical school, being in the presence of members from large, internationally-known organizations was intimidating. I experienced imposter syndrome well before the term was in common use. Yet, Dr. Sandra Gold always made me feel welcome and treated me with the same respect she showed to everyone regardless of their level of training or rank.

As I began residency, I unfortunately lost touch with the Gold Foundation. Although I continued to live the values of humanism, integrity, respect, and professionalism, I, like many others, struggled to stay engaged with the organization after medical school. I did not encounter the Golds again until almost 10 years later when I was a Pediatrics resident at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. I was part of the team caring for their grandson. I am almost certain they did not remember or recognize me, but they made an impression on me nonetheless. One of my attending physicians remarked to me, “I think he’s a neurologist or something.” I recall thinking to myself, Dr. Arnold P. Gold was not just any neurologist, he was a world-renowned figure and arguably one of the fathers of pediatric neurology. How could anyone not recognize that they were literally in the presence of greatness?

But what was most memorable to me (and probably a surprise to no one who knew him) was the humility, kindness, and utmost respect he showed for every person involved in his grandson’s care. He truly made me feel like a valuable member of the team and even included medical students by asking for their opinions. This was a striking exemplar that still impacts the way I practice today. It was almost as if the Golds were divinely planted to help remind me of who I was and call me back to where I belonged. However, at the time, I did not listen.

I initially became disenchanted with academics after residency and entered private practice for several years before realizing that something was missing. My passion for medical education brought me back to academia when I joined the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). Almost by happenstance, while I was working with medical students, I discovered that there was a GHHS chapter there. I became a faculty advisor and joined the Humanism in Practice (formerly Alumni) Committee. Through this committee, I am privileged to work on initiatives encouraging GHHS members to maintain involvement after medical school, residency, and beyond.

This work is very important to me because I personally experienced the challenges of staying involved after medical school. Although I still maintain an adjunct role at UNLV, in 2023, I joined the faculty at Roseman University College of Medicine, where I have the privilege of working with Dr. Pedro “Joe” Greer, founding dean and Gold Foundation trustee, to start a new medical school focused on social determinants of health and value-based care. We are hoping to welcome our inaugural class in the fall of 2025, and I am looking forward to helping establish a GHHS chapter at our institution.

I have been fortunate to work with many inspiring individuals over my career, but it seems as though the ones that have made the most impact have been associated with the Gold Foundation in one way or another. Therefore, when Dr. Greer asked me to attend the Summit, I jumped at the chance.

The credit for the special moment really goes to my wife who discovered the photo while cleaning and reorganizing. Once I saw it, I knew it was important to bring it along and share it with Dr. Gold because, to me, it symbolized a way to give back to an organization that has meant so much to me both professionally and personally.

It felt like finally coming home.

Dr. Vilai is on the faculty at Roseman University College of Medicine, where he works with Founding Dean and Gold Trustee Dr. Pedro “Joe” Greer. 

Julpohng “JP” Vilai, MD