The Etz Chaim Tree of Life Award of Compassionate Care, made possible thanks to a generous gift from Etan Chaim Milgrom, MD, MS, was presented for the first time during recent commencement ceremonies at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

The annual award will recognize, in perpetuity, a Keck Medicine faculty or staff member who strives to improve the health and lives of patients through compassionate care with integrity, excellence, respect and empathy.

Milgrom, a USC alumnus and a clinical professor of family medicine and pediatrics, has dedicated his career to helping medical students and residents understand the importance of extending empathy toward patients.

Milgrom had recent life-saving surgery at Keck Hospital of USC. Grateful for the world-class care he received, Milgrom created the award to honor those who go above and beyond to improve the health and lives of patients by consistently delivering compassionate care.

“When you become ill like I did, the experience as a patient teaches you how to be a more caring and compassionate doctor,” said Milgrom, a physician at the USC Engemann Student Health Center at the University Park Campus. “Physicians should always be working to find ways to make their patients more comfortable in both the diagnostic evaluations and treatments they provide and inculcate these principles with medical students and residents.”

Milgrom created the award to give compassionate care a name, a face and the recognition it deserves.

The inaugural recipient of the award, Joshua Sapkin, MD, said, “Compassionate care is not something that’s often tangible or given recognition.”

Sapkin, who earned his doctorate from USC, is an assistant professor of clinical medicine and associate program director of the internal medicine residency program. He was given the award during the May 16 commencement at the Galen Center.

“But it’s one of the main reasons we go into our profession and strengthens the relationships we build with our patients,” Sapkin said.

Sapkin was selected for the award by Keck School of Medicine Dean Carmen A. Puliafito. Future winners will be chosen by a committee chaired by Milgrom and comprised of faculty, staff, students and resident physicians. Award winners will serve on future committees.

“The Etz Chaim Tree of Life Award of Compassionate Care serves as an ideal for our students to aspire toward as they graduate from the Keck School of Medicine of USC and enter the field of medicine,” Puliafito said. “Dr. Sapkin has demonstrated throughout his distinguished career the best Keck Medicine of USC has to offer in compassionate, personalized health care. He serves as a shining example of the kind of physician that students should strive to become.”

Sapkin completed his internal medicine residency at LAC+USC Medical Center and joined the faculty in July 2001. The primary care physician said he sets out to build long-lasting, positive relationships with each of his patients, and works with them as they set their personal health care goals.

“We build relationships with patients and we follow them through the years, sticking by them through thick and thin,” Sapkin said. “We provide emotional support, advice and consultation. But we also need to do more — we need to show them compassion.”

Sapkin said he considers himself an “old school” physician and that the value of true compassion can be overlooked in a world fueled by modern technology.

“We have so much technology these days to diagnose and treat patients, but the ability to connect with a patient and show compassion can never be overvalued,” Sapkin said.

— Douglas Morino