Amy M. Sitapati Named 2022 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award Recipient

UC San Diego Health physician recognized for her humanistic approach to medicine and delivery of care for patients and their families

Honoring those who demonstrate the highest standard of compassion and sensitivity in their interaction with patients, Amy M. Sitapati, MD, chief medical information officer for Population Health at UC San Diego Health and clinical professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine, has received the 2022 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

"It is an honor to have received such an auspicious award," said Sitapati. "To share what humanism has meant in my career comes from the innermost space of humility, gratitude and care."

Sitapati credits this award with her practice of Kelee Meditation, which she states has provided her with mental strength and stillness that has enabled her to be centered in order to provide compassionate care, a strength she relied upon heavily during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Nothing has challenged this generation’s health care providers more than the last two years as we faced a novel coronavirus together, and I knew I needed to be part of the solution; however, this isn’t one person’s award. It represents the collaborative strength of a collective and my story is not so different from many others who share similar stories that required presence, grit and love," said Sitipati.

"We, together, served as countless hands working in harmony during an unprecedented crisis of our world’s history. Giving, sharing and comforting those experiencing suffering. We showed up and we offered our best, not just in our work, but in who we were as humanitarians."

The Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award recognizes both clinical faculty members and graduating medical students who are exemplars of humanism in the care of patients. The Gold Foundation defines humanism in health care as compassionate, collaborative and scientifically excellent care.

Sitapati said bringing humanism into the practice of medicine is the highest pinnacle in health care delivery, benefitting both patients and health care colleagues.

"Dr. Sitapati’s excellence in humanistic medicine is evident in her ability to demonstrate empathy and compassion; she is a role model," said Daniel Lee, MD, attending physician at the Owen Clinic for HIV/AIDS Treatment at UC San Diego Health. "Dr. Sitapati is sensitive to her patients’ psychological well-being, and is centered and present during patient care interactions. She recognizes the emotional state of her patients and is able to help calm them, which is vital in relaying new medical diagnoses and information."

In a career spanning more than two decades, Sitapati began as an 18-year-old volunteer at a children’s hospital working with patients facing terminal cystic fibrosis. During summer breaks in college, she served as a peer support and secretary for an oncology team, where she witnessed the fortitude of children with cancer.

Early in her career as a physician, Sitapati provided HIV/AIDS care in San Ysidro and in the inpatient unit at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest.

"As an early career physician, I was serving young patients who were terminally ill and I became very attached to those individuals; I was heartbroken in losing so many," Sitipati said. "I believe it’s from this experience that I learned the art of detachment, which is the deepest form of love and compassion, and it has shaped me into the doctor I am today."

Sitapati weaves this understanding into her primary care, teaching and administrative leadership. Over the past year, she has contributed to community and patient care through service in ambulatory care, COVID-19 inpatient care, community-based and mass vaccination sites, and border vaccination. She is passionate in believing that health care is a human right and that equity is foundational in its delivery.

In addition to providing care for patients at UC San Diego Health, Sitapati serves as clinical professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Division of Biomedical Informatics at UC San Diego School of Medicine. She is co-chair for the Health Disparities and Inequities work stream, part of the Anti-Racism Framework for UC San Diego Health Sciences.

"The purpose of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award is to recognize the value of humanism in providing compassionate health care for patients and their families," said Michelle Daniel, MD, vice dean for medical education and professor of clinical emergency medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "This prestigious award is given annually to a faculty member who demonstrates both clinical excellence with outstanding compassion, and who shows respect for patients, their families and health care colleagues. This is very well-deserved recognition for Dr. Sitapati."

Recipients of the Tow Award receive a monetary gift, membership in the Gold Humanism Honor Society and a certificate from the Gold Foundation. The award honors clinicians and medical students at multiple medical schools nationwide each year.

In September, Sitapati will speak to incoming medical students at the UC San Diego School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony on the importance of humanism.

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