Under the canopy of trees in UF Wilmot Gardens, Dr. Richard C. Christensen’s wife, Kathy, and son, Chris, accepted the UF College of Medicine Hippocratic Award on his behalf May 3, nearly six months after the beloved faculty member’s untimely passing.
Four students from the class of 2016, Michael L. Good, M.D., dean, and Patrick Duff, M.D., associate dean for student affairs, addressed the crowd, shared memories of working with Christensen and read Christensen’s own words on being a doctor.
Christensen was remembered as a kind, giving psychiatrist and compassionate teacher who worked with underserved populations, often with Jacksonville’s homeless population.
Christensen was a professor of psychiatry in the UF College of Medicine and director of behavioral health services at the Sulzbacher Center, a center for the homeless in Jacksonville. He died unexpectedly on Thanksgiving Day in Zambia while on a Habitat for Humanity Global Village build project. He was out for a morning run when he was struck and killed by a driver.
This year’s award marked the first time the Hippocratic Award was given posthumously, and the second time Christensen received the honor. The award is given each year by the graduating medical school class to recognize a faculty member who is not only an outstanding teacher but also a superb clinician, mentor and role model. The award is named after the Greek father of medicine, Hippocrates, who is well known for his teaching and practice of modern medicine.
Reading from one of Christensen’s own speeches, Carl Herndon, class of 2016 president, reminded attendees of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society motto: Be worthy to serve the suffering.
He continued with Christensen’s own words regarding patient care from a speech he delivered to the AOA in 2011: That the commitment “is concretely expressed in quiet acts of compassion and the most basic gestures of respect for the other. I tell every student I have the privilege to teach to remember those fundamental elements that should define every physician-patient relationship.”
Herndon read a final lesson from Christensen to students and faculty in attendance: In summary, remember to always use the patient’s name rather than a diagnostic label; to always look at patients, not a chart or phone or lab results; to spend time with patients, meet their families and learn what gives meaning to their lives; and finally, to find a way to say goodbye to patients at the clinic, in their hospital rooms and even at the end of their lives.
His son, Chris, accepted the award and shared a few words of appreciation to the college. “On behalf of our family, thank you very much for honoring the legacy of Dr. Christensen. Please help his work live on.”
Nestled in a serene setting of aged trees, flowering plants and paved walkways, the award ceremony is held each year next to a very special tree. Within the gardens as well as in front of UF Health Shands Hospital stand two sycamore trees that began as a cutting from the tree under which Hippocrates is said to have taught his students. C. Craig Tisher, M.D., former dean of the College of Medicine, planted the original cutting in front of the hospital in 1969. In 2011, Tisher renovated Wilmot Gardens and transplanted a cutting to the renewed gardens.