“As they become freshly minted doctors, it’s important to remind medical students of the ideal behavior in teaching and patient care that these Hippocratic principles espouse,” said Craig Tisher, MD, the director of UF’s Wilmot Botanical Gardens and a professor emeritus and former dean of the College of Medicine.
Four of the six original cuttings that UF received were successfully grown by a UF horticulture expert, and the most promising cutting was planted in front of UF Health Shands Hospital on June 14, 1969, as witnessed by representatives from the consulates, UF, the American Medical Association and more. That same day, the medical school class of 1969 honored the first recipient of the Hippocratic Award: obstetrics and gynecology professor and beloved mentor Hugh M. “Smiley” Hill, M.D. The award ceremony later moved to Wilmot Botanical Gardens, where another plane tree cutting also grows.
In early 2022, Tisher and colleagues noticed the tree by the hospital was struggling to thrive and had put out many suckers along its lower trunk due to stress. As part of the effort to rehabilitate the tree, Tisher and Bart Schutzman, PhD, a lecturer in the department of environmental horticulture at UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, removed the offshoots and immediately thought to share the wealth.
While Schutzman worked on successfully rooting 13 of the new cuttings, Tisher contacted peer institutions to gauge interest in receiving a tree and starting their own version of UF’s Hippocratic Award ceremony. Ten schools have responded favorably, and eight have already received their plane tree.
One cutting went to the Florida State University College of Medicine, where Robert Watson, MD ’69, understands the impact of the Hippocratic tree and award from both the student and faculty perspective. Prior to becoming an FSU professor, Watson served as a professor of neurology at UF, spent 17 years as the senior associate dean for educational affairs and earned the Hippocratic Award from the class of 1985. His name appears on a plaque beneath the Hippocratic tree in Wilmot Botanical Gardens, along with every other award winner since his medical school class started the award in 1969.
“Getting a cutting from the tree under which Hippocrates is said to have taught seemed perfect,” he said. “To call the best clinical teacher of the year the winner of the Hippocratic Award … it became the most cherished award a clinical faculty member could receive.”
Watson recently worked with FSU leadership to initiate their own Hippocratic Award, which launched this spring. Plans are underway to plant a garden around their tree.
Tisher aims to spread the same joy to as many schools across the U.S. as possible by collecting new cuttings and donating more trees every year.