URMC Geneticist and Teacher Wins National Humanism Award

Nov. 4, 2012
Medical students nominated Fong for his advocacy for patients – and students

 Chin-To Fong, M.D., doesn’t just teach University of Rochester Medicine and Dentistry medical students the foundation of genetics and molecules during their first years of training. Fong teaches students the very foundation of practicing medicine: that their patients – and they, themselves – are human beings, first and foremost. He believes it’s important to connect on that level to be effective physicians.

“Dr. Fong’s teaching style is reflective of the ideals upon which our medical school was founded,” said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “He is an excellent teacher who embodies the ideal of the biopsychosocial philosophy. He conveys superbly to his students the need to connect with their patients and to consider how all aspects of their  lives affect the management of their diseases.”

That teaching and Fong’s ability to form those connections are why he is the 2012 AAMC Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award recipient. Fong received the award Nov. 3 at the organization’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

UR medical students nominated Fong because they felt he exemplifies the qualities of a caring and compassionate mentor in the teaching and advising of medical students. They also said that he doesn’t just teach them to be caring physicians, he is an example of one.

“I have witnessed his interaction with patients, his calm demeanor and compassion, as well as his credentials and extensive knowledge of genetics that make him an exceptional physician,” Judy Liu, a former medical student, was quoted as saying in Fong’s nomination.

Fong’s connection to his patients is evident to students when he brings families into classes to talk about what it’s like to have a child with a difficult genetic disorder. He aims to show his students – early in their education – the impact these disorders have on families and how resilient the human spirit is.

Fong said he doesn’t ever remember talking, specifically, about humanism in his classes, and yet this isn’t the first time UR medical student have nominated him for the humanism award.

“The very simple thing is, you have to actually care about the people you care for,” Fong said.

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award is administered through the Organization of Student Representatives. The goal of the award is to emphasize, reinforce, and enhance the importance of humanistic qualities among medical school students and faculty. The presence of a caring, compassionate, and collaborative learning environment serves as positive reinforcement to prospective physicians of the desirability of such qualities in the doctor-patient relationship.

Each medical school is allowed to nominate one individual for this award and it is highly competitive. University of Rochester medical students Bradley Hunter and Michael Hunter nominated Fong on behalf of fellow students.