Dr. Martina Ann Kelly selected as the 2022 AFMC-Gold Humanism Award recipient

“Solicitude benefits both the patient and the clinician. In essence, sensitivity is gentle armor, a sign of strength and a precursor to empathy.” ­- Dr. Martina Ann Kelly

The Gold Foundation for Humanistic Healthcare, Canada, and The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) are pleased to announce that the 2022 AFMC–Gold Humanism Award and Lecture was presented to Dr. Martina Ann Kelly, a visionary advocate for the role of our senses in compassionate patient care and a leading investigator of the exquisite nuances of true human connection.

Dr. Kelly is a family physician, professor of family medicine, and the undergraduate director for family medicine at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary.  Originally from Ireland, Dr. Kelly moved to Canada in 2012. Her primary research focuses on how relationships are often embodied, experienced and expressed without words, through our senses including touch.

Dr. Kelly has composed an exceptional body of research in more than 80 peer-reviewed publications and 11 papers in high-impact journals. The humanistic nature of her work has attracted two Gold Foundation grants. She has also received a Social Science and Humanities Research Council grant, collaborating with colleagues in sociology and STEM, to study the convergence of technology, data and human senses and their combined impact on clinician-patient interactions.

For Dr. Kelly, relationships are at the heart of good clinical practice and education. Together, Dr. Kelly and her colleagues have expanded clinical placements in family medicine and engaged in active learning on topics that include shared decision-making, advanced care planning and the importance of continuity to quality patient care. Each year, all 580 students in Cumming School of Medicine have placements in family medicine clinics across Alberta.

Mentorship is always present tense for Dr. Kelly. She forges a humanistic learning environment by mentoring former students and residents beyond graduation with many maintaining communication with her over the years. She is also known for her wholehearted support of junior faculty by supporting their academic career development and encouraging them to incorporate patient-centered values into their work.

The AFMC-Gold Humanism Award was presented to Dr. Kelly as part of the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) in spring 2022. During the presentation, Dr. Kelly addressed the attendees on the topic of the healing possibilities of connection.

As she recalled an encounter with a particular elderly patient that ushered in a wellspring of emotion, Dr. Kelly implored young doctors to pay attention to what she calls “innocent moments” or soft signals and silent messages, which are all ripe with meaning. Though sensitivity can oftentimes be seen as weakness, Dr. Kelly believes it to be just the opposite. It is a means of transforming from a “you & me” attitude to a “you & me as we” frame of mind.

She concluded her presentation by noting that non-verbal communication can open emotional sensitivity and create better clinician-patient relationships.

Dr. Kelly explained her philosophy for connection. She stressed the need for the next generation of family physicians to heed the pause, the lean or the hesitation by the patient. She implored learners to be comfortable in their own skin and to give themselves space and permission to make an occasional mistake.

The act of sensing, Dr. Kelly emphasized, is rooted in the small details. She pointed out that a doctor who is unwilling to touch or hear their patient is more likely to sever a connection rather than strengthen it. In addition, that emotional disconnect increases the likelihood of a doctor ignoring their gut feelings, which Dr. Kelly believes are precursors to diagnoses.

“Dr. Martina Ann Kelly has been an extraordinary exemplar of a humanistic and transformational relationship-based approach to family medicine at a time when the fabric of relationships is frayed from economic, political and social undercurrents woven into daily life,” said Dr. Richard I. Levin, President and CEO of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation and Founder and Secretary of The Gold Foundation for Humanistic Healthcare, Canada. “Her empathy and innovative, practical application of the human senses to her healthcare practice, most specifically touch, is shining a light on where optimal healthcare has always been and ought to be. As a medical educator, she is imparting that inquisitive spirit to the next generation of family physicians. We are delighted to join with the AFMC to honor her contributions.”

The AFMC–Gold Humanism Award and Lecture was created in 2018 to emphasize, reinforce and elevate the ideals of humanism and patient-centered care within the healthcare community in Canada. The nominations are open to physicians, nurses and other members of the healthcare team who practice in Canada and are practitioners or researchers within health professions education.

“We are excited to be recognizing Dr. Kelly as this year’s AFMC-Gold Humanism Award winner,” said Dr. Geneviève Moineau, President and CEO of the AFMC. “Dr. Kelly is a visionary champion of humanistic thought in both medical education and practice. The AFMC is very pleased to partner with the Gold Foundation for Humanistic Healthcare to bring humanism to the forefront of Canadian medical education.”

Founded in 1943, The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada represents Canada’s 17 faculties of medicine and is the voice of academic medicine in Canada. AFMC member faculties graduate over 2,700 MDs per year; teach over 11,500 undergraduate medical students; train over 15,000 postgraduate trainees; employ nearly 48,000 full- and part-time faculty members and undertake over 3 billion dollars of biomedical and health care research annually.

The Gold Foundation for Humanistic Healthcare, Canada, is the Canadian affiliate organization of The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit that champions humanism in healthcare.