Teaching the Human Side of Medicine
Joseph Zarconi, M.D., realized early in his career that being a doctor and caring for patients wasn’t going to be enough.
“In order for me to manifest my most authentic self, I also needed to be teaching about caring for patients,” he says. “Not only do I set high expectations of my own work as a physician; I also set high expectations of the next generation as they get ready to do the work that I am doing.”
Dr. Zarconi, who was in the first class to graduate from NEOMED in 1981, is living out those values in the three roles he currently fills at the University. He was recruited to be chair of internal medicine last year. Shortly after he took that position, he was asked to also serve as interim associate dean for health affairs. His third role is as clinical director for humanities education. As such, he and Delese Wear, Ph.D., co-direct a reflective practice course, which is part of NEOMED’s Human Values in Medicine course. “The reflective practice course is a longitudinal four-year curriculum that engages students in small-group learning to help them nurture their reflective capacities, which are important skills in caring for the suffering,” Dr. Zarconi says.
Of his many roles, teaching and training students, Dr. Zarconi identifies the humanistic side of medicine as his true educational passion.
“I have always thought NEOMED does a great job of training physicians in the scientific and technological dimensions of medical practice, but as science and technology of medicine continue to advance, it is too easy to let the humanistic and professional dimensions of medicine take a back seat,” he says. “It’s important to always impart to our students that medicine is, at its essence, a human enterprise.”
When Dr. Zarconi travels to national meetings, he often hears how well-regarded NEOMED is for its strong emphasis on human values. “I think our students understand from the faculty at NEOMED that humility and solemn obligations are involved when we accept an invitation into the lives of suffering people,” he says. “It has been a joy to teach here and give back to the University, because this is the institution that shaped me into the physician I am today.”
Doctors Wear, Zarconi and three colleagues were recently honored with the annual John A. Benson Jr., M.D. Professionalism Article Prize given by the Philadelphia-based American
Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation for their article “Remembering Freddie Gray: Medical Education for Social Justice,” published in Academic Medicine. Dr. Zarconi wrote again on the topic for the Spring 2017 issue of Ignite magazine.