Finding Joy

Erika Goldstein, M.D., Res. ’84


This year, Erika Goldstein, M.D., Res. ’84, MPH UW professor of medicine and associate dean of the Colleges at the UW School of Medicine, concludes her long, distinguished career. With over 34 years practicing general internal medicine at Harborview Medical Center and teaching clinical medicine to students, she has accumulated a lot of wisdom about what makes a good doctor.

Do you have a favorite teaching moment?
I’d like to tell you about a teaching moment where I wasn’t the teacher. A few years ago, a gospel singer had surgery at Harborview. Someone had wheeled a grand piano over her foot, fracturing it. My students were gathered at her bedside, learning about her surgery and her hospital stay, when one asked, “Will you give us a sample?”

The patient smiled and belted out an a capella version of “Amazing Grace” and a second song, too. Her voice was phenomenal. Out in the hall, a group of nurses gathered with tears in their eyes. The patient’s mother was crying. I was crying. When she finished, I asked if she had any advice for the students.

She looked at her Bible for a moment. In addition to listening to your patients and working as a team, she said, you have to take care of yourself and your own personal and spiritual needs. Otherwise, you won’t be able to take care of others.

What’s your approach to teaching?
My approach has always been to nurture the important elements of physician identity. As you become a physician, you take on more of the physician mindset: you know things other people don’t know, you look at problems differently — but you should always remember to focus on the patient, to listen to them and to explain things in a way that they can understand.

Also, parallel to patient-centered care is student-centered teaching. I hold students to a high standard, but I also work with them until they understand the goals. I encourage them to be self-reflective, to always ask, “How can I improve my practice of medicine?”

Working closely with students brings a lot of joy to faculty. It reminds them of their values, and why they decided to become physicians in the first place.
What does health equity mean to you?

Medical training is exceedingly expensive. If the only people who can go to medical school are the people who can afford it, that’s problematic. It’s important that the demographics of the physician population reflect the demographics of the patient population — in race and ethnicity, in wealth, in sexual orientation and gender identity.

One of the things I’ve always loved about the WWAMI program is that the community of physician trainees reflects the broader community. They learn from one another about their own different cultures, backgrounds and life experiences, and this increases their awareness of their patients’ differences.

Tell me about the Colleges.
For a long time, I wanted to create a closer, more personal faculty-student ratio and a core group of committed teachers. The College program had faculty take on a cadre of students, teaching them at the bedside and serving as their mentor throughout medical school. Linking clinical skills teaching with mentoring has made it a successful program and a model for other medical schools.

What is your legacy?
The Colleges themselves, but also my approach to nurturing the values of physicianhood. About 4,000 students have moved through my courses and the College program. I’ve been looking through many years of thank-you notes from students, and a lot of them talk about holding up those ideals. Nurturing those values and goals in the hearts of 4,000 people — that’s my biggest legacy.