“Aha” moments that revealed the humanity of medicine

Golden Glimmers are a way for GHHS members to express themselves, and at the same time stay connected with their GHHS peers! We periodically request themed submissions in the form of art, writing, photos and more, and share a selection of submissions on the Gold website and social media pages. The idea for this Golden Glimmer (the 11th in our series) came from GHHS members Brenda Varriano and Samuel Borer, medical students at Central Michigan University.

In this feature, members of GHHS and the wider Gold community share their “aha” moment, when they realized that medicine was more than simply science, but also intertwined with philosophy and humanity. 

The first time I built a relationship with a patient over music




Dr. Gerard Hills
Resident Fellow
Riley Hospital for Children



“There have been so many moments for me while on this journey of learning medicine. Each of them struck a chord with me, and heighten my sense of humanity. Yet, a time while working as a medical student in the oncology wards at Riley Hospital for Children seems to stand out in my memory. It was the first time I built a relationship with a patient over music.”

“I grew up making music, singing and writing songs, but I didn’t know my passion for music could bleed into my love for medicine. I met my patient in the last three weeks of a 4-month stay. He had been very ill during this admission and went weeks without leaving his room. Withdrawn and leery of visitors, he managed to trust me when I sang alongside him and the music therapist.”

“Near the end of my rotation, I wrote a list of all of his favorite things.  Riddled with excitement, I captured on the paper all that I learned about him over the course of three weeks, and I wrote a song that included the items. The music therapy team helped me to record the song I wrote for the patient. Just before he went home, I presented the recording as a gift for finishing his treatment. His parents were so grateful and expressed how invaluable it was that I connected with their son beyond the diagnosis.”

“On the day of discharge, the family left a gift bag for me. Inside was a card and a red tie. The card stated that I would be a great Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist one day. With tears filling my eyes, I vowed that I’d wear it on my first day of Peds Heme/Onc Fellowship. Above is a picture of my first day of Peds Heme/Onc Fellowship: smiles, gratitude, a song in my heart, red tie, and all.”

Pain is multidimensional



Robin Bennett Kanarek
Kanarek Family Foundation




“My ‘aha’ moment occurred during a presentation for healthcare providers at Fairfield University’s Egan School, Kanarek Center for Palliative Care in Fairfield, Connecticut. Christina Puchalski, MD, from George Washington University Institute for Spirituality & Health (GWISH) in Washington, DC, was the guest speaker. Dr. Puchalski, an international leader in the movement to integrate spirituality into healthcare, is the founder and director of GWISH. Her topic of discussion was spiritual distress and how it is manifested in adults who are seriously ill.

Robin Kanarek with her son, David, in 1997

Spiritual distress, as defined by Dr. Puchalski and Dr. Betty Ferrell in their book, Making Health Care Whole, refers to a person’s “impaired ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose in life through connectedness with self, other, art, music, literature, nature, and/or power greater than oneself.”

Spiritual distress can be caused by existential concerns, grief and loss, and isolation. It occurs when a person cannot find sources of meaning, hope, and a sense of connectedness to life. Living with an illness challenges one’s sense of normalcy and may lead to a sense of loss over their decline in health. Behavior manifestations include anger, sense of loneliness, hostility, depression, difficulty sleeping, sadness, anxiety, and feeling of abandonment. In addition, one may question if they contributed to their failing health.

When Dr. Puchalski described these symptoms of spiritual distress to the audience, I had an epiphany. For over 20 years, I had lived with questions about my son’s personality change after he relapsed from leukemia and underwent a stem cell transplant at a major children’s cancer center…”

Read the full story of Ms. Kanarek’s “aha” moment in this blog post.

Medicine is a conduit of care and social justice



Dr. Hung Nguyen
Clinical Assistant Professor
Florida International University
Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine




“While in undergrad, I was volunteering as an observer in the Emergency Department. My role was simple: observe, change the sheets and not get in the way of physicians. Because I was mostly invisible, I took the opportunity to talk to patients while they were waiting long hours in the ED.”

“I remember a PWA (person with AIDS) and his partner. He was cachectic, had bruise marks in several places, and needed help to walk. The patient was being seen because their home was broken into and he was attacked because he’s gay and has AIDS. I experienced several emotions: anger, sadness, and fear. At the time, I was coming to terms with my sexual preference. I wondered whether that would be my future. I imagined the suffering this man was subjected to.”

“I realized then, that when I became somebody (a doctor), I could do something; I realized  that medicine was a conduit of care and social justice; that there is great responsibility to not only give back, but to also be advocates for our patients.”

“Today, I work as a psychiatrist taking care of the homeless. I feel humbled by my patient’s struggles and strive to inspire them. I am grateful for the opportunity.”

Body, soul, and spirit

Ada D. Figueroa
Universidad Central de Bayamón, Puerto Rico

“We are a Humanist-Christian institution. Our values include charity, justice, spirituality, truth, integrity, solidarity, cultural promotion, professionalism and community life. The nursing sciences integrate these values from the humanistic-Christian aspect in which our students are prepared.”

“Regardless of the situations that we go through on this path, we are based on the principle that science, without faith, cannot exist. We believe that all creatures should have excellent care, based on scientific evidence, focusing on the patient, created in the image of God and therefore deserves to be treated with compassion, care, professionalism and ethics. Body, soul and spirit… Our aha moment!”

The power of advocacy for clinician wellness and safety

Michael Hirsh, MD
Professor of Surgery, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery and Surgeon-in-chief
UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center

“I was a surgery third-year resident at Columbia Presbyterian when my best friend in the residency program was shot and killed right in front of our emergency room. This murder showed me that in order to keep our hospital functioning to provide health care for Washington Heights, a disastrously stressed area in NYC, I was going to have to convince the house staff that I, as their representative on the Board of Trustees, had their backs. They needed reassurance that we could make our facility safer and make some sense of what was a senseless act.”

“I made a presentation to the board with mitigations to help the medical community’s sense of wellness. The Board of Trustees listened and supported my recommendations. The Med Center moved forward dedicating all the improvements to my fallen friend. That was my aha moment: that advocacy for provider wellness and safety can make a medical institution work more harmoniously, and in the end, benefit the community that we served. I have used that lesson for the next 41 years.”

Do you have an idea for a future Golden Glimmer? Email GHHS Program Manager Melissa Hernandez at mhernandez@gold-foundation.org.

Irene Zampetoulas, MPA

Communications Associate

Supports the Foundation's marketing and communications initiatives, including writing stories, updating social media, crafting our messages, and more.