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2024 Gold Humanism Summit: The Person in Front of You

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On Leap Day of this year, I had the privilege of being invited to speak at the 2024 Gold Foundation Summit.

Reflecting on the few days I spent in Atlanta, there are a few topics that came up over and over both in formal sessions and in one-on-one conversations. Turning those over and over in my mind, they feel like different sides of the same coin: there’s a gap or even a paradox between where we are, and where we need to be.

Sometimes, that conversation took the form of an operational or an administrative question. When it comes to preserving the humanity of patients and clinicians, we know what works. At the very least, we know enough to have a direction to go in. How do we operationalize that, though, for the sake of better outcomes? On a deeper level, the question is being asked over and over, that if we know what improves the lives of everyone involved in health, why aren’t we doing it?

The more paradoxical approach to this issue runs through the clinician. No nurse or doctor takes up their vocation to be apathetic about their work. No provider or physician thinks they communicate poorly. These things clearly happen, though. Hundreds of clinicians, medical students, and human-centered care enthusiasts gathered to talk over these issues. How do we get the people into that room that aren’t even aware they desperately need to be there, or worse, don’t see the point?

At the broadest level, there is a deep disconnect between why people chose medicine and healthcare, and the limits that are placed on their impact by institutions. One medical student with a humanities background put a fine point on it, that there is a “deep rage at this system”. Dr. Pedro “Joe” Greer alluded to it in his closing remarks to the summit. He insisted that public health should not only be taught to medical students, but that it be taught as the “social determinants of inequality“. Pointing to the fact that that social determinants and systemic issues (in society and in health systems) contribute to poor, inequitable outcomes is the way forward.

One of the wonderful things about the Gold Foundation is its story, and this was reiterated at the conference itself. Dr. Arnold P. Gold saw a need for something that wasn’t there, and he started doing it. There are barriers to humanistic health on a broad scale. The optimism we find together, though, in a group of people committed to its development and practice is the place to start.