Faith T. Fitzgerald is a nationally recognized master educator and diagnostician whose ability to guide clinicians in the science and art of medicine and compassionate patient care has been described as "legendary," "inspirational" and "unforgettable."
In recognition of her dedication and excellence in medical education, Fitzgerald will receive a 2013-2014 Distinguished Teaching Award from the UC Davis Academic Senate at a ceremony on May 13 at 5:30 p.m. in the Vanderhoef Studio Theater at the Mondavi Center on the UC Davis campus.
A call to teach
“For about a month early in my career, I was in private practice in Eureka, Calif. The colleagueship was good. The townspeople were nice. The patients were magnificent. But I kept turning around trying to tell someone how interesting this all was, and there were no students there. So I gave up practice and came back to be a teacher. It is something that I need.”
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“When I was in medical school, someone once told me that my principal teacher would be the patient. Some 40 years after graduation from medical school, I can’t remember the content of my lectures, but I do remember my first encounter with a patient, what that man told me and how he acted with me.”
A professor of internal medicine at the UC Davis School of Medicine, Fitzgerald has devoted her career to educating the next generation of physicians. Since 1980, she has taught thousands of students, residents, fellows and colleagues at UC Davis and reached thousands more as a visiting professor and a much sought-after lecturer. During her career, she has received more than 50 honors and awards, including more than 30 specifically for teaching.
Fitzgerald is considered one of the most knowledgeable internists in America today. Students and colleagues describe her as a walking encyclopedia of medicine, history and the humanities, gained through her love of learning. Those abilities, combined with a reputation for inspiring practitioners to strive for excellence in their interactions with patients, have produced her unique approach to ethics and the practice of medicine and resulted in captivating learning experiences for physicians at all levels of their careers.
“Faith’s ‘classrooms’ are the hospital and clinic where she teaches physicians-in-training to effectively interact with patients, listen to their medical issues, and ask questions that further engage patients to tell their stories,” said Nancy Lane, an endowed professor of internal medicine and rheumatology at UC Davis, who was a student of Fitzgerald’s 35 years ago and nominated her for the teaching award.
With a focus on putting patients first, Fitzgerald highlights essential components of the doctor-patient interaction -- from curiosity to storytelling -- and demonstrates their importance in gathering information to make sound clinical judgments.
In one of her widely read essays, she wrote, "To participate in the feelings and ideas of one's patients -- to empathize -- one must be curious enough to know the patients: their characters, cultures, spiritual and physical responses, hopes, past and social surrounds. … Both the science and art of medicine are advanced by curiosity."
Joseph Silva, emeritus professor and dean of the School of Medicine at UC Davis, believes Fitzgerald has redefined teaching in medicine.
“Faith teaches something that is hard to capture in these days of technological advances: a logical approach to the diagnosis and treatment of a patient suspected of having a particular disease,” Silva said. “She blends a combination of in-depth knowledge of medicine and diseases, a sharp clinical wisdom, the most sincere concern for her patients and a true interest for the students she trains.”
Fitzgerald’s teaching evaluation scores are among the highest in the School of Medicine, especially among third- and fourth-year students, who learn by working with physicians treating patients admitted to the hospital. Learning is a combination of patient examinations and interviews, medical literature reviews and current surveys.
Internal medicine chair Timothy Albertson believes Fitzgerald is “a master in this environment, bringing incredible memory and knowledge, wonderful deductive skills to challenge students to reach and become the best doctors they can be.”
Student and resident evaluations describe her as “incredibly devoted to teaching” and a “phenomenal person and physician,” and her medical rounds with patients as “fantastic, very educational and very different” and a “once in a lifetime experience.” They laud her “exceptional knowledge base” and her dedication. As one resident physician recently wrote, “She comes to the hospital in the middle of the night to see patients and find physical examination findings that she later teaches us on rounds.”
Kabir Matharu, a UC Davis School of Medicine graduate who is now a first-year resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, agrees: “I personally attest to Faith’s tremendous impact in my life. Her insight has led me to believe that I am able to make differences within the field of general medicine and that I am able to go against the grain with unique ideas.”