On a picture-perfect early September afternoon, against a backdrop of rolling cornfields, dozens of Johns Hopkins’ most compassionate health care professionals gathered outdoors at Folly Farms, the Baltimore County home of Stephanie Cooper Greenberg, chair of CIM’s International Advisory Board, and husband, Erwin, for the annual CIM retreat.
Their first order of business? To answer this prompt: Humanizing medicine is important to me because…
One by one, doctors and other clinicians from a wide variety of disciplines and perspectives took the mic and shared personal — and very moving — responses. A sampling:
“Because I truly believe that in order to heal someone, we have to know them.”
“Because I see how enthusiastic and bright medical students are when they enter medicine, and I want to make sure that doesn’t burn out.”
“Because I believe it’s the foundation of solving health inequities. It’s the thing that can cut through all of the noise and remind us of who we are serving and who they are loved by.”
“Because contrary to popular belief, technical expertise is absolutely not enough if we want to provide great care, or even good care, for our patients and communities.”
“Because the training environment has become patient-proximate and not patient-centered. The road back goes through connecting with our patients, and connecting with each other, at the bedside.”
For internists Mary Catherine Beach and Scott Wright, who planned the retreat and are key leaders of CIM’s new Initiative for Humanizing Medicine (IHM), the heartfelt insights were welcome evidence that the IHM is an idea whose time has definitely come.
“To listen to everyone enthusiastically provide their reasons for why humanizing medicine was important to them, and to have those responses be so different and personal … That was a turning point for me, to go from, ‘I think this is a good idea’ to, ‘Wow, this is going to be a reality!’” says Beach, who is a co-director of the IHM and a Mary and David Gallo CIM Scholar.
“There is a real risk that the importance of knowing the patient as a person will be determined as something with low return on investment — and it will be lost from medicine entirely. If that happens, it would be a deep and grievous loss.” – Cynthia Rand
Says Wright, who is director of CIM’s Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence and the Anne G. and G. Thomas Miller Professor of Medicine: “To a person — and there was great diversity in terms of where they work and what they do — each attendee asserted that humanizing medicine is at the core of medicine and is truly important to them. What’s more, they want to be working with colleagues who have this as priority A1.” He adds, “Hearing and seeing the passion people feel about this was exciting and invigorating — and it gives us confidence that this is going to be a great initiative.”
Cynthia Rand, Mary and David Gallo CIM Scholar and IHM senior adviser, struck a serious note when she rose to elaborate on her own response to the prompt. “We are at a tipping point with the commoditization of health care,” she said. “There is a real risk that the importance of knowing the patient as a person will be determined as something with low return on investment — and it will be lost from medicine entirely. If that happens,” she said, “it would be a deep and grievous loss.”
A Scholarly Community
Of course, Rand, Wright and Beach are all optimistic that such a loss will be averted at Johns Hopkins because of the groundswell of support for clinical excellence among Johns Hopkins physicians, nurses and other clinicians.
Wright, who was instrumental in the launch of the Miller Coulson Academy in 2008, has seen it grow to now include more than 100 members (see listing on p. 20 with fall 2023 inductees). The Miller Coulson Academy broke new ground by demonstrating that clinical excellence could be measured in a clear and consistent way. By developing a truly rigorous process for measuring excellence in clinical care, CIM really made a mark — at Johns Hopkins and on the national level, Wright notes. One prime example: the recent establishment of a new promotion track at Johns Hopkins Medicine for faculty members who excel at patient care.
“The Miller Coulson Academy has been laying the groundwork for clinical excellence over the last 10 to 15 years. With all we have learned, this will really help us as we build — and dream about — what this Initiative for Humanizing Medicine can be.” – Scott Wright
The Miller Coulson Academy has been laying the groundwork for clinical excellence over the last 10 to 15 years,” says Wright, a Mary and David Gallo CIM Scholar. “With all we have learned, this will really help us as we build — and dream about — what this Initiative for Humanizing Medicine can be.”
Moving forward, Beach says, the mission will be “to create and support an intellectual scholarly community,” through which those who attended the retreat — and others at Johns Hopkins who are committed to humanizing medicine — can find like-minded collaborators for research and education projects aimed at advancing truly patient- and family-centered care.
Wright notes that just as the Miller Coulson Academy was successful in bringing people together to do things they couldn’t do by themselves, such as CLOSLER.ORG, so will the Initiative for Humanizing Medicine succeed in uniting clinicians with shared missions who might not otherwise have ever met or worked together.
“We know that bringing people together in teams results in greater creativity,” he says. “We’re hoping for some wonderfully spontaneous collaborations.”
Building a Pipeline
In addition to expanding opportunities for networking and collaboration, Beach is excited about cultivating the pool of mentors for a rapidly growing group of medical school students, trainees and early-career faculty members who are passionate about pursuing projects that are focused on humanizing medicine.
Beach herself is already mentoring a notable number of mentees and mentee teams. Just a few examples:
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, says Beach, adding, “I love working with all of these passionate, committed physicians and students, and we’ve got so many projects going across many different disciplines: public health, medicine, engineering, the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality…”
Importantly, she notes that seed funding provided by the IHM has already enabled many of her mentees to conduct the early research needed to attract much larger grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other external funders.
The pilot data that Boss collected, for example, laid the foundation for a recent NIH RO1 grant award of $3.2 million, as well as $425,000 in separate NIH funding. All told, Beach and those she mentors have garnered nearly $8 million in external funding just in the past few years to advance research central to humanizing medicine.
“By supporting medical students and other early-career trainees with funding to conduct projects they are really excited about, we are building a pipeline of young researchers who will go on to do big things in humanizing medicine. This does a lot of good downstream.” – Mary Catherine Beach
“There is another beautiful thing about these small grants awarded through CIM,” says Beach. “By supporting medical students and other early-career trainees with funding to conduct projects they are really excited about, we are building a pipeline of young researchers who will go on to do big things in humanizing medicine. This does a lot of good downstream.”