Image of a healthcare professional holding a patient’s hand.


A Patient’s Journey Inspires Future Physicians

October 31, 2017

On October 20, first- and second-year NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) students took a break from the classroom to hear firsthand how a patient’s life was forever changed by a diagnosis of leukemia. Then, following the inspiring presentation, students had the opportunity to help other blood cancer patients by participating in an oral swab bone marrow screening with the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a nonprofit public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry.

NYITCOM Clinical Reflection Sessions are held several times each semester and offer medical students the opportunity to better understand the impact they can have on another human being. Standing before hundreds of medical students in Riland Auditorium, the patient-speaker (name withheld for privacy reasons) shared his emotional journey.

In spring of 2015, the speaker believed he was nearly the picture of health, particularly since he had improved his diet and exercise regimen at the recommendation of his primary care physician. But, when he returned for a follow-up examination in September, his laboratory bloodwork showed that something was wrong. Following a series of tests, including a bone marrow biopsy, he discovered he had leukemia.

His diagnosis was the beginning of a confusing and turbulent journey that would include numerous bone marrow biopsies, aggressive chemotherapy sessions, blood stem-cell transplants, contracting diabetes, and multiple hospitalizations due to infection and allergic reactions to treatment. The healing process was frightening and uncertain, but the speaker noted his appreciation for the honest communication and humility of his physicians and urged the medical students to follow in the footsteps of his care providers.

“Every single provider of care, and also non-provider of care, asked what they could do to make me feel comfortable,” he said. “No one was arrogant, curt, or dismissive. Anything I wanted to discuss, they listened to and took to heart. When and if they didn’t know something, they told me they would research it, never guaranteeing an answer. When they didn’t have an answer, they told me they didn’t have an answer, and it was comforting to know they had my best interests in mind.” The patient also attributed much of his treatment success to his older son’s matching bone marrow donation, as well as a generous donation of umbilical stem cord cells.

Second-year medical student Moshe Bressler said he admired the speaker’s attitude in light of the difficult circumstances. “My role as a doctor will be to understand the burdens, hopes and beliefs of my patients,” said Bressler. “I must be as optimistic as him, and never stop believing in the power of medicine.”

“In hearing patient experience stories from members of the community, these very special gatherings allow medical students to go beyond memorizing pathways and structures, which helps instill hallmarks of osteopathic medicine, notably empathy and compassion,” said William Blazey, D.O., assistant dean of Pre-Clinical Education and co-organizer of the Clinical Reflection Sessions.

“Having these Clinical Reflection Sessions in our curriculum is a wonderful 'anchor' for our students to see what it means to become a competent, confident and compassionate physician,” said Wolfgang Gilliar, D.O., dean of NYITCOM. “Daily studies may often take away this patient-centered view and these sessions give a meaningful opportunity to learn directly from patients.”

The next Clinical Reflection Session, “Bridging the Gaps,” is scheduled for November 10, and will feature perspectives from parents, teachers, and healthcare providers on the physician’s role in assisting special needs populations.