Doctor highlights importance of humanism to UT College of Medicine students

Dr. Alexandria Cooke
Dr. Alexandria Cooke
photo Dr. Nancy Dickey

Modern physicians have more tools at their disposal than ever before, but Dr. Nancy Dickey told doctors in training from the UT College of Medicine Chattanooga on Friday not to forget the "original" tool: humanism.

"Humanism is big and sometimes messy and, oftentimes, difficult to define, but it in fact is at the heart of medicine," she said, adding that "it's important that we not put that tool aside" in the midst of today's high-tech health care climate.

"Whether you're a surgeon or a family physician, a neonatologist or a radiologist, humanism is how you approach the 'people part' of the science that you spend so many years learning," said Dickey, who served as keynote speaker for the annual Dr. Harold Alper Humanitarian Award Ceremony at Erlanger Medical Center.

The Alper Award is presented to a graduating resident of the college who consistently demonstrates the humanistic qualities - integrity, compassion, community service - of the late Dr. Harold Alper, a pioneer in microscopic and laser surgery in Chattanooga.

This year's award went to Dr. Alexandria Cooke, a third-year family medicine resident.

Dickey became the first female president of the American Medical Association in 1997, and has watched the world evolve to the point where communication is immediate but also fragmented through texting and social media. She said this culture spills over into medicine, too, but small changes - such as taking time to make eye contact - can go a long way toward restoring the doctor-patient relationship.

Cooke said that aspect of Dickey's lecture resonated with her.

"You kind of get lost in the rush of residency - seeing patients, getting lab tests," Cooke said. "I think we forget the power of the physical exam and how much you can learn about a patient."

Cooke will complete her residency this summer and plans to stay in Chattanooga to further her training through an obstetrics fellowship.

"I really enjoy the relationship you build with a woman over nine months, and then you get to see the baby be born and you have that instant connection," she said. "It's very special, and very much a privilege and an honor to be allowed to be part of such a sacred journey."

Other nominees for the Alper Award included Dr. Byung Ban, internal medicine; Dr. Hannah Cox, pediatrics; Dr. Duane Jurma, emergency medicine; Dr. Nathan Jung, urology; Dr. Elissa Nagy, OB/GYN; Dr. Ryan Voskuil, orthopaedic surgery; Dr. Cole Webster, pediatrics; and Dr. Gavin Wilks, surgery.

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.

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