Student Corner: Frances Hessel

Francie Hessel probably never could have predicted that her final months of medical school would be reshaped by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Still, she’s poised to start a psychiatry residency at Weill Cornell-New York Presbyterian Hospital this summer, after participating in Baylor’s virtual commencement on May 21.

She’ll take with her important lessons learned at Baylor College of Medicine, including valuable insight into humanism and compassionate patient care. She wrote about this topic in two recent journal articles. “On Hoping,” published in the American Journal of Medicine, recounts her approach to a patient facing a challenging diagnosis and treatment option. “Trust in Conversation,” featured in the AAMC’s Academic Medicine and a companion podcast, offers her perspective on relating to patients through conversation.

For Hessel, humanism is an inseparable part of the practice of medicine. She credits teachers, attending physicians, residents and mentors who modeled this trait since her very first year at Baylor College of Medicine.

“Some valuable aspects of our training are more explicitly labeled along these lines, such as the Kretzer moments during MS1 anatomy (a nod to the late Frank Kretzer, a Baylor faculty member who led anatomy courses for many years), or the Compassion and the Art of Medicine elective,” she said. “However, our excellent role models demonstrated that humanism in medicine, as well as the teaching and modeling of humanism in medicine, is in everything we see and do in the classroom, clinic and hospital.”

In addition, Hessel said she also draws on her own experience in her interactions with patients – this shines through in her AJM piece. “My experiences as a patient have informed my approach to medicine in many ways. Perhaps most salient is the practice of holding in mind the necessity, challenge and privilege it is to recognize, treat and engage with each patient as an individual whose distinctive circumstances, views, fears and strengths mean that every ‘presentation’ is unique.”

While it’s one thing to learn about humanism in medicine, it’s another to put it all down on paper as she did with her journal submissions. Hessel said she has long turned to writing and journaling as a way to process her experiences in the world.

“Medical school, especially during clinical rotations, was particularly packed with intense moments that I often journaled about. Occasionally, I found my journal entries turning into something bigger, that I found I wanted to develop into something I could share. Taking the time to reflect — to find meaning in medicine, and to engage with narratives in medicine – continues to add depth and significance to my training for me.”