Brody’s Albernaz lecture teaches students that compassion is key part of medicine

It’s no secret that health care workers everywhere are facing burnout right now. This can cause physicians to detach from their patients and surroundings for their own wellbeing.  

Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, author of “Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference,” was the featured speaker at the Brody School of Medicine’s annual José G. Albernaz Golden Apple Distinguished Lecture. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

“When I was in medical school, I was taught that the more you cared, the faster you would burn out,” said Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, chief of medicine at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. But after a two-year deep dive into medical literature and research on the topic, Trzeciak came to the opposite conclusion: Caring is a fundamental part of medicine that has distinct, measurable outcomes.

Trzeciak turned his study of compassion in medicine into a book, “Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference,” and was the featured speaker at the Brody School of Medicine’s annual José G. Albernaz Golden Apple Distinguished Lecture on Wednesday.

The lecture was established in 2006 with the goal of providing support for visiting physicians to share their expertise with Brody students and the local medical community. It is traditionally held on the first day of class for Brody students but was delayed this year because of COVID-19. Wednesday’s lecture was funded by the Albernaz family in partnership with the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation and Vidant Health.

The lecture is named after Dr. José Albernaz, who was born in Brazil and became one of the first fully trained neurosurgeons to practice in his home country. Albernaz co-founded the Brazilian Society of Neurosurgery and was president of the Board of Medicine. Due to political unrest in Brazil, Albernaz moved his family to the United States and became a professor at the Medical College of Ohio. During his time there, he was twice awarded the Golden Apple award for dedication to his students. In 1999 he and his wife, Doris, retired in Greenville, where three of their five children have settled.“What better way to honor him than by teaching and relating to medical students? On my first day as a medical student, I remember a lecture just like this,” said son Dr. Marcus Albernaz, a surgeon with Eastern Carolina ENT-Head & Neck Surgery in Greenville.

During Trzeciak’s speech, he cited numerous studies on the scientific effects of compassion on patients, patient care and providers.

  • From Harvard: 46% of Americans believe health care providers are not compassionate.
  • From Johns Hopkins: 74% of ICU interactions had no expressions of compassion between the care team and patients.
  • From Mayo Clinic: Hospital areas where doctors are less caring make patients less safe.
  • From Northwestern: Doctors spend more time looking at computer screens than looking patients in the eye.

Watch Online

Miss the Jose G. Albernaz Golden Apple Distinguished Lecture? You can still watch it online through Facebook

Dr. Stephen Trzeciak speaks on Wednesday.

“I conclude that we have a compassion crisis. I feel it is the most pressing concern of our time,” Trzeciak said. But he also offered hope. In general, compassion takes less than 40 seconds to have a measurable effect, he said. And it can be taught and cultivated.

First-year medical student Quashawn Chadwick, one of several students invited to attend the lecture in-person (others tuned in via a Facebook livestream because of pandemic protocols), said he was interested in the concept of teaching compassion to others.

“The lecture got me asking a lot of questions. I’m happy to be here and so thankful to the Albernaz family,” he said.

José Albernaz’s daughter Dr. Vanessa Workman, a physician with Eastern Radiologists of Greenville, said, “Dad had a reputation for being very caring, which is not something neurosurgeons are known for. He would have liked Dr. Trzeciak’s message.”

The Albernaz family has supported the annual lecture since its inception in 2006. Their involvement in the community and in the medical school is much appreciated, said Herb Garrison, interim president of the ECU Medical and Health Sciences Foundation.

“The Albernaz family makes Greenville a better place to live because of their work and involvement,” Garrison said. “Dr. José Albernaz would be very proud.”

 Dean Mike Waldrum, left, and Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, center, with members of the Albernaz family. (Contributed photo from Vidant Health)