Scholarships for Humanism

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Medical schools sometimes fall short in matching their actions and words. Although we often speak of humanism there is little tangible evidence that it is rewarded during medical education. For example, scholarships are generally based on academic success and/or financial need rather than humanism. Deans solicit funds for scholarships to attract the “best and brightest.” The “best” goes undefined. We don’t know how to measure these qualities in the admissions process and generally utilize volunteer activities as a proxy. The Gold Humanism Honor Society has provided one substantive way to recognize humanism, and its impact has been significant. Awarding scholarships for humanism is one way to reward and demonstrate the value of humanistic behavior.
At Florida State University College of Medicine we developed such a scholarship to recognize and reward students who best demonstrate humanism early in medical school. We approached a private foundation and received $20,000 to award scholarships based on characteristics of humanism without regard to academic standing or financial need. We decided to award $2,000 scholarships, five to first-year and five to second-year students at the end of the academic year. We asked our standardized patients (SPs) to select the recipients.
The SPs knew they would be responsible for awarding $20,000 in scholarships. They were to think about the students who they would like to have as their physician. They were not to evaluate just based on whether a student asked the right question on a checklist but, rather, how sincere the student was. They were not only evaluating how technically well a student performed but also how compassionately. At the end of the year SPs provided names of five first-year and five second-year students to the course directors for doctoring and the director of the SP facility.
The students were not aware that the scholarships existed, nor that they were being subjectively evaluated by their SPs. All students were grateful to receive a scholarship for humanism, and none knew that such recognition existed.
It will be interesting to follow these students over the years. How will they do academically? Will they be chosen as members of the Gold Humanism Honor Society? What specialties will they choose? Will they later enter practice or academia? Will they become the kinds of leaders our profession needs? We will see. The creation of funds to reward humanism can also serve as a fundraising tool for deans. The call to reward humanistic students might have a powerful appeal.
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