Medical community loses a titan with the passing of the incomparable Faith Fitzgerald

Faith Fitzgerald

Medical community loses a titan with the passing of the incomparable Faith Fitzgerald

Emeritus professor who served 38 years with the UC Davis School of Medicine died Dec. 3

(SACRAMENTO)

Faith Thayer Fitzgerald, who devoted nearly four decades to educating the next generation of physicians at the UC Davis School of Medicine, passed away at the age of 78. She  leaves a rich legacy of accomplishments and an indelible imprint on the community she loved.

Fitzgerald, or F2 as she was affectionately known, joined the faculty of the School of Medicine in 1980 and was an emeritus professor who served 38 years in the Department of Internal Medicine.

Among her contributions to UC Davis Health, she served as Residency Program director, a position she held for nearly 20 years, chief of general medicine, vice chair for education, and the School of Medicine’s first associate dean for humanities and bioethics.

“Faith leaves behind a powerful legacy and sphere of influence, having inspired thousands of students and residents at UC Davis and countless internists all over the world,” said Susan Murin, interim dean of the School of Medicine. “Among her many gifts was the ability to share the joy of practicing medicine, in teaching, and the continual pursuit of excellence. Her impact on our campus, health system and those who had the privilege of knowing her is immeasurable.”

Dr. Faith Fitzgerald holding a magnifying glass looking at a patient’s leg
Dr. Faith Fitzgerald

A patient-centered approach

As a physician, Fitzgerald was known for her unique ability to connect with patients. An innovator in patient-centered care, she preached to colleagues and students about the importance of listening to patient’s stories and experiences.

“If you listen to the patient, they will tell you all you need to know,” she would say. 

Always dressed in black, Fitzgerald would begin pre-rounds at 3 a.m. and meet individually with patients, leaving hand-written notes in their charts.

Fitzgerald often connected on a deeper level with patients. Her unique bedside manner allowed her to involve them in decisions about their care and gain their insights to better treat their illnesses.

“Faith intuitively understood that it's the stories around patients and their cases that helps us connect to the patient as a human and secondarily to the patient as a human being with a disease,” said Paul Aronowitz, clerkship director of internal medicine at UC Davis.

Faith Fitzgerald
Empathy is not the same thing as kindness, sympathy, pity or understanding, it is rather knowing of someone's suffering and having the inescapable awareness that this could be me. Empathy is the most valuable gift a physician can give to their patients.”Faith Thayer Fitzgerald

A dedicated and gifted educator

Known for holding herself and her students to the highest ethical and professional standards, Fitzgerald shared her knowledge and philosophy with students throughout the world. She served as a visiting professor and lecturer in 30 states and 10 foreign countries.

"I try to exemplify to students the exhilaration of medicine, the honor and awesome responsibility of patient trust and the beauty of the scientific thought process," Fitzgerald said during an interview with the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

A gifted storyteller, Fitzgerald taught the science of medicine through the art of storytelling and the magic of personal relationships.

“Many of us were inspired by her, and she made teaching a noble profession and academic identity for clinicians here at the School of Medicine long before the institution fully caught up with that idea,” said Mark E. Servis, vice dean for medical education. “She will be missed, but her work will live on in the countless students, residents, faculty and staff who learned from her.”

An internationally recognized clinician

Throughout her illustrious career, Fitzgerald received over three dozen teaching awards. In 2002 she 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.

In addition to national and regional recognition, she received countless awards from UC Davis, including the prestigious 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.

“These awards and accolades barely summarize her career adequately,” said Aronowitz. “For those who knew her, Faith will be remembered for her inspiring nature, superb clinical acumen, and as a consummate educator and true patient advocate.”

A memorial event for Fitzgerald is being planned for January.