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Sensitivity Training for Surgeons

Patricia Byers, M.D. ’80, is a critical care and trauma surgeon in the Miller School’s Dewitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery. She leads monthly one-hour sessions during which fellows, clinical and research faculty, residents and medical students discuss a range of issues related to diversity that affect the department, including interactions with patients and families.
portrait of Dr. Patricia Byers

Patricia Byers, M.D. ’80

Who attends these sessions?

The group sessions are led by myself, Dr. Miriam Lipsky [UM Director of Special Projects in the Office of the Provost and an adjunct faculty member in the School of Education and Human Development]; Dr. Heidi Allespach; two medical students, Akki Gunda and Gabriela Aklepi; and two to four surgical residents [including Gareth Gilna, M.D., Rebecca Saberi, M.D., Walter Ramsey, M.D., and CJ O’Neil, M.D.]. The entire faculty of the department and its house staff, in addition to those medical students rotating on the service, have been meeting over Zoom during the pandemic. Hopefully these encounters will move to in-person meetings in the near future.

What is the agenda?

A resident selects and presents a particular topic drawn from either a challenging issue coming from our diverse patient population or something related to the diversity of our department. Learning how to best appreciate and respect others while recognizing interpersonal differences and sensitivities are goals of the sessions. I deliver a slide presentation reviewing the important didactics accompanying the topic. We then enter into 25-minute breakout sessions, with faculty, medical students and residents in separate groups, so that everyone feels that they have a safe space in which they can speak freely. The groups then come together to summarize what was discussed in the breakouts.

What is the overall goal of these sessions?

These sessions are meant to increase awareness and enable us to become more sensitive to others’ feelings and reactions to those events that enter our lives each and every day. This is not only about the faculty, staff and students, but also for our patients, so that the patient-physician relationship can be strengthened and enriched.