When Christine Thomas ’18 was 17 years old, she was hospitalized for two months with complications from a ruptured appendix. The Glendale Heights native credits the compassionate and thoughtful care she received from the hospital staff for her eventual recovery, as much or even more than the advanced technology and medications used in her treatment.
Thomas carried that experience with her to Elmhurst College, where, as a pre-health student, she minored in a unique program called Medical Humanities, which prepares future medical professionals to bring deeper levels of respect, ethical treatment and compassion to the patient-caregiver relationship.
As part of her Medical Humanities capstone course taught by philosophy Professor Katrina Sifferd, Thomas wrote an ambitious research paper about how compassionate, patient-centered care could reduce the damaging health disparities experienced by African-American cancer patients.
And in May 2019, Thomas joined the proud ranks of dozens of other Elmhurst undergraduates by having her work published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. The article, “African American Cancer Disparities and Compassion,” was featured alongside other undergraduate and graduate research in Intersect: The Stanford Journal of Science, Technology, and Society.
“It’s a highly respected journal,” said Sifferd, who first encouraged Thomas to submit her paper to the publication. “Christine should be extremely proud that she was accepted.”
Thomas knew that she wanted to write about patient-centered and compassionate care, but it was Sifferd who suggested linking them to racial disparities in health care delivery. Sadly, black cancer patients are far less likely than white patients to receive the critical early diagnoses and treatments that are known to save lives.
In her paper, Thomas proposes policy changes that would train all health care workers to recognize the common humanity in all patients and engage equally without prejudging or resorting to painful stereotypes.
Thomas is currently completing a one-year master’s in biomedical science before applying to graduate programs to become a physician’s assistant. Meanwhile, she’s working as a patient care tech at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Chicago, where she hasn’t forgotten the lessons learned from researching her capstone paper.
“The level of patient care that someone receives, and the amount of thought and love and compassion that’s put into that care, can really help a person heal and recover and get back to their optimal health,” said Thomas, “which is what I strive for every day at work.”