After becoming a patient at Keck Hospital of USC and undergoing a life-saving surgery, a Keck School of Medicine of USC faculty member was inspired to create an award honoring those in the health care field who practice compassionate care. Three years ago, Etan Chaim Milgrom, MD, MS, clinical professor of family medicine (practitioner) at the Keck School, established the Etz Chaim Tree of Life Award of Compassionate Care. The annual award was announced in May and was presented in December to Lydia Lam, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School.

“When we as physicians become patients — and we all will — we actually become better doctors,” Milgrom explained. “I realized this early on in my career and it became my life’s work to promote and teach residents, medical students, fellows and even colleagues about compassionate care. Thinking back on my education, I don’t remember many lectures about empathy or compassionate care.”

Milgrom, which literally means pomegranate, designed the award to portray a pomegranate tree, because it symbolizes wisdom and good deeds. “When you put those two together, I can’t think of a better way to describe the perfect combination of a doctor,” Milgrom said. “A doctor should be someone who knows his or her field and is able to practice through the good deeds of compassionate care.”

The award is not meant only for doctors; it can be awarded to any Keck Medicine of USC health care provider. “This award is endowed in perpetuity, which means when I’m long gone, it will hopefully continue to promote compassionate care for years to come,” Milgrom said.

Lam said she is honored to be the current recipient of the award and credited the Department of Surgery for allowing her to pursue her passion.

“I’m really fortunate to be able to do what I want to do, which is some of my international work. It’s really important to find good mentors and a good department,” Lam said. “The Department of Surgery is great because they do allow for us to not only teach and better ourselves but also to help people in ways that we see fit.”

Lam was nominated for the award for her work at Keck Medical Center of USC and abroad, including medical relief efforts in Haiti and Kiritimati Island.

— L. Alexis Young