During her final years practicing medicine, the internist Faith Thayer Fitzgerald, MD, glided from room to room on a razor scooter at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif, her colleague recalled.
Fitzgerald adopted this means of transportation to allow her to examine and talk to her patients, following a hip injury and surgery, which left her unable to do the amount of walking typically required to conduct rounds at a hospital.
Her colleague, Mark C. Henderson, MD, MACP, described Fitzgerald as being “extremely dedicated to each patient,” having taken care of many of them for decades. Her will to find a way to practice with severe physical limitations exemplified this dedication, said Henderson, who worked in the hospital alongside her, including handing over patients to her.
Fitzgerald died on Dec. 3, 2021, at 78 years, after working in a career spanning 6 decades, including actively practicing internal medicine at UC Davis Medical Center for 40 years.
Her career also included working as a medical educator, influencing several people interviewed for this story in that role, and advising the staff of Internal Medicine News for more than 3 decades.
“Faith Fitzgerald was an incredible teacher and mentor for so many people,” noted Robert H. Hopkins Jr., MD, who practices general internal medicine and med-peds at the University of Arkansans for Medical Sciences, Little Rock and is a member of the editorial advisory board of Internal Medicine News.
“The Patient and the Next Generation” Were Always in Mind
A contributor to Fitzgerald’s success as an educator was her dogged commitment to her patients, said Henderson, who is associate dean for admissions at the University of California, Davis, and professor and vice chair for education in the department of internal medicine. The latter of these positions was previously held by Fitzgerald.
“She always arrived early for hospital rounds, often waking up her patients,” he said. “She evolved this practice to be present before all the chaos of the day ensued and honestly to spend quality of time with patients.”
“She always had two things in mind: the patient and the next generation,” Henderson continued. “A lot of times, because she had seen the patients earlier in the morning, she knew where to focus the team she was training” and “she could show her students and residents all of these interesting findings.”
“It was a very efficient way of conducting bedside teaching,” he added.
Fitzgerald taught primarily in the department of internal medicine at UC Davis Health. She joined the faculty of that school in 1980. Her 38-year-long career there included serving as residency program director for nearly 20 years, chief of general medicine, vice chair for education, and the medical school’s first associate dean for humanities and bioethics.
Several people who knew Fitzgerald well also attributed her effectiveness as a teacher and a doctor to the kindness she showed all people no matter their background or station in life.
“Every patient she saw in clinic, she booked for an hour ’til the day she left UC Davis,” noted Carmelina Raffetto, Fitzgerald’s closest friend and former administrative assistant, during UC Davis Health’s virtual memorial ceremony for Fitzgerald.
“Her patients all had her phone number, her pager. … She loved teaching, she loved her patients, and she loved staff.
“She treated all of us equally. Whether you were in housekeeping or in the cafeteria, or if you were just walking down the hall, she had kind words and she never wanted anyone to feel that they weren’t’ special,” added Raffetto, who is currently executive director of the Northern California American College of Physicians chapter.
Throughout her career, she received over three dozen teaching awards, according to a statement from UC Davis. In 2002, for example, Fitzgerald received the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society’s Robert J. Glaser Award for providing medical students with an outstanding educational experience. Additional teaching awards included the American College of Physicians Distinguished Teacher Award, the California Medical Association Golden Apple Award and the UC San Francisco Gold Headed Cane.
She also received awards from UC Davis, including the Hibbard Williams Lifetime Achievement award, the Tupper Award for Excellence in Teaching and the UC Davis School of Medicine Golden Apple Award. She was also chosen as the UC Davis Senior Class Outstanding Clinical Teacher seven times and was named the Department of Medicine Distinguished Faculty Teacher on four separate occasions, the statement said.
Her Early Life and Family
Fitzgerald was born in Boston on Sept. 24, 1943, and “knew from early childhood that she would be a physician,” according to her biography on Changing the Face of Medicine.
She completed undergraduate studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1969 and completed her residency in internal medicine at the same institution. In addition to teaching at UC Davis, Fitzgerald served as assistant professor of medicine at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, for 2 years early in her career.
Fitzgerald is survived by her brother, Sean, and sister-in-law, Deborah Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald lived with and cared for her mother, Irene Fitzgerald – who passed away in 2005 – for more than a decade.
Fitzgerald asked for any donations in her memory to be used to establish scholarships for medical students with financial need, as she had been supported by scholarship money long ago while a student at the University of California. Donations to the Faith Fitzgerald, MD, Medical Student Scholarship Fund can be made here.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.