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Medical humanities series opens with ‘Reflections on a Career’

Jack Coyne encourages students to talk to their patients and consider subjective information as part of a comprehensive assessment.


Published August 28, 2014

“Medicine is not just clinical.”
Jack T. Coyne, clinical associate professor
Department of Pediatrics

“All you have to do is have a good relationship with your patient. Focus on what’s going on in their lives,” Jack T. Coyne, MD ’85, clinical associate professor of pediatrics, advised medical students during the inaugural program of UB’s Center for Medical Humanities.

Coyne opened the monthly noon speaker series — one of several enrichment opportunities the center will offer this year to help medical students consider the human dimension of medicine.

His Aug. 18 talk, “Reflections on a Career in Medicine,” attracted 145 students.

The high turnout “demonstrates our students’ strong interest in the interface between culture, society and the practice of medicine,” says center director Linda F. Pessar, professor emerita of psychiatry.

Coyne’s talk recapped an eclectic career spanning five decades, one in which “a sense of having to serve has always been there.”

He worked with inner-city youth in St. Louis, was ordained a Catholic priest and helped lead a record company in Connecticut that produced albums with humanistic songs.

Coyne’s desire to help the poor led him to a refugee camp in Cambodia, where an overworked doctor spontaneously handed him a stethoscope and asked him to pitch in and help.

Coyne eventually decided he could “serve better by being a physician.”

So 18 years after earning his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Saint Louis University, he graduated from UB’s medical school, where, he says, “I had the time of my life. You have so many gifts here in this medical program.”

Coyne has gone on to serve children in Western New York as a pediatrician and advocate, particularly for victims of abuse.

He helped create and practiced at the former Roberto Clemente Health Center on Buffalo’s West Side. He also helped form the area’s first multidisciplinary child advocacy center, where he continues to serve as medical director.

“Medicine is not just clinical,” he emphasizes. When treating children, “remember what it was like when you were a kid. There’s so much information, so much heart that you have that makes a difference for these kids.”

He also encourages aspiring physicians to consider subjective information from patients as part of a comprehensive assessment.

“We’ve got to believe what we hear,” he says. “Do more believing of your patients than not.”

Working with a multidisciplinary advisory committee that involves faculty, residents and medical students, the Center for Medical Humanities is integrating humanism into the core medical curriculum, as well as extracurricular programs.

The goal is to enhance students’ interpersonal skills and enrich their understanding of social and cultural contexts related to the practice of medicine.

The noon speaker series will continue to feature topics of particular interest to students in the first two years, or preclinical stage, of medical school. Future presentations include:

  • Sept. 23: “Reflections on the Preclinical Years” by William Stendardi and “Reflections on the Third Year” by Melissa Hoffman, both UB medical students.
  • Oct. 14: “From the ‘White Plague’ to Killer Superbug: Tuberculosis and the Meanings of Disease” by David Herzberg, associate professor of history.
  • Nov. 5: “Anatomical Practices, Bodies and Their Curious Histories” by James J. Bono, associate professor and chair of the Department of History.
  • Nov. 19: “Nothing About Us without Us: How the Global Disability Rights Movement is Transforming Medicine” by Michael Rembis, assistant professor of history and director, Center for Disability Studies.