Friends and colleagues at URMC are mourning the loss of Tom Weber, who passed away on April 13. Tom was a core member and leader of the revolutionary Standardized Patient (SP) Program at the School of Medicine & Dentistry. The impact he had on people through this program went far beyond its learning goals: Tom’s compassion made him a shining light in the lives of many.
Tom joined the University in February of 2003. He is well known (and beloved) for his role as Assistant Program Manager for Simulation of the SP Program. This unique program used patient-actors to help teach medical students about empathy and communication skills. (This article is on the intranet, VPN connection required.)
What began as a program for medical students has since expanded to include physicians and staff who work in patient care. While medical school teaches the practical skills of healing and medicine, this program focuses on the human interaction aspect of practicing medicine: how to deliver bad news and navigate emotional conversations. In order to teach empathy, one must have empathy in spades, and that was Tom Weber. He led the organization of over 100 patient-actors, including himself!
Tom’s vision and heart helped define URSMD’s unique approach to teaching medical students how to facilitate effective serious illness conversations. Robert Horowitz, MD, chief of Palliative Care, recalls that Tom helped craft, cast, and train one of the more demanding SP roles, that of “Julie Smith.”
“Every year-two medical student would meet one-on-one with Julie,” said Horowitz, “to share the ‘bad news’ of her new cancer diagnosis, and hold supportive, reflective space for her as she cried in response. Tom and co-leader Marta Brewer ensured that all of our ‘Julies’ could embody this role realistically by crying real tears, session after session, AND—vital to SP well-being—that the actors were also safe, comfortable, and well supported before, during and after this exhausting work. Tom embodied the very humanity—perceptive, generous, and compassionate—that this learning opportunity was built to teach our students.”
He had a profound influence on many of our faculty members. “He was a remarkable person,” said Christopher Mooney, PhD, MPH, “contemplative, compassionate, generous, and gentle. He approached life and work with a rare sense of kindness, gratitude, and admiration. Tom was unwavering in his commitment to educating future clinicians and making a difference in the lives of others. Through his work, he has impacted countless faculty, staff members, and trainees. He will be dearly missed.”
His passing is not only a professional loss to our community, but a personal loss for friends as well. Ronald Epstein, MD, has been family friends with Tom for decades. Their children used to play together when they were little. “When I was developing the Standardized Patient Program at URSMD,” said Epstein, “Tom was one of our pioneers. He helped move clinical education and research into communication between patients and physicians forward in immeasurable ways. Always thoughtful, insightful, and generous of spirit, he helped us expand the limits of the possible."
Tom is sorely missed by Kelsey Sherman, director of the Simulation Center. “Tom was truly a remarkable human being,” she said. “The way in which he approached all situations with kindness and curiosity has left a lasting legacy that will be carried on in each of us. His commitment to creating meaningful learning experiences for our students and his dedication to helping to improve healthcare was truly admirable. It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Tom, and his simulation colleagues will miss him greatly.”
Tom is lovingly remembered by his adult children. His oldest son, Rufo, lives in Minnesota, and he was able to visit in Tom’s final days. Tom’s daughter Phoebe and younger son Leo both live in the Rochester area.
You can view his obituary online.