Graduating to the Front Lines

Becoming a doctor during a pandemic was not necessarily what Priyanka Gaur envisioned when she started medical school. Still, as she heads to Johns Hopkins Hospital to begin her residency, she’ll be tasked with reassuring and treating frightened patients.

“I think it feels almost like you are getting recruited to a war of sorts,” she said. “Usually, match day is a celebration, and it’s a drawn-out thing filled with happiness and excitement. I do feel like there was an undertone of, ‘Oh, what’s to come?’ and fear and anxiety this year.

“But I think all of us take the physician’s oath, and we feel it’s our moral obligation to help others through medical service.”

If ever there was a doctor up to the task, it’s likely Gaur, who was presented with the Ho Din Award at the UT Southwestern Medical School commencement ceremonies on May 2. While at UTSW, Gaur earned her medical degree and a master’s degree in public health.

Established in 1943, the Ho Din Award goes to graduates who have exemplified the traits of compassion, human understanding, and medical wisdom.

“I think we have to understand that we’re all in this together. We can only get out of this together.” -Priyanka Gaur

Priyanka Gaur, M.D., M.P.H. on UT Southwestern’s Match Day with her father, Yogesh Gaur, and mother, Dr. Sunita Gaur.
Priyanka Gaur, M.D., M.P.H. on UT Southwestern’s Match Day with her father, Yogesh Gaur, and mother, Dr. Sunita Gaur.

“I think that tenets of the Ho Din Award – medical wisdom and human understanding – are so important now more than ever, Gaur said. “I want to be sure to always present the facts to patients and practice evidence-based medicine and really understand the science behind what I’m prescribing and what I’m counseling.

“I think we have to understand that we’re all in this together,” she added. “We can only get out of this together. Carrying the Ho Din spirit in those ways is really important as a practitioner – but also I think every human should try to consume good science and practice kindness as well.”

Dr. Richard Hoffman, a UTSW grad who has served with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented the award.

“She gives me great hope because of her energy and her understanding of medicine and her willingness to, and dedication to, medicine and her patients,” he said. “That’s exactly what we need right now – the young doctors who are willing and able to help us through this pandemic.

Gaur played a pivotal role in creating a new facility for parents in need of daycare while they receive treatment at Parkland Hospital. The center, called Annie’s Place, will open this fall.

The following is part of our conversation with Gaur and Hoffman:

PN: When you started medical school, did you envision starting your career in the middle of a pandemic? 

Gaur: “No, this has been unimaginable. I think it feels almost like you are getting recruited to a war of sorts. Usually match day is a celebration and you know, it’s filled with happiness and excitement. I do feel like there was an undertone of, ‘Oh, what’s to come’ and fear and anxiety this year. But I think all of us take the physician’s oath and we feel it’s our moral obligation to help others through medical service. So I think it’s also incorporated into our motivation to move forward with, you know, head held high and do our best. But it is, you know, a bag of mixed feelings.”

PN: So there is this pandemic going on, and you have a lot of scared people – and possibly a little confused, too –  and that’s manifesting in various ways. How do you feel called to show that compassion now even more so? 

Gaur: “I think that tenets of the Ho Din Award – of medical wisdom and human understanding – are so important now more than ever. I think as a budding physician, when I do start on July 1, I want to be sure to always present the facts to patients and you know, practice evidence-based medicine and, and really understand that the science behind what I’m prescribing and what I’m counseling. I think the human understanding is about treating people with kindness no matter what their health status or whatever status is. And I think, you know, there has been a lot of problematic biases with the coronavirus.

And I think we have to understand that we’re all in this together. We can only get out of this together. And carrying the Ho Din spirit in those ways is really important as a practitioner. But also I think every human should try to consume good science and practice pure kindness as well.”

PN: Dr. Hoffman, you’ve gotten to chat with Dr. Gaur during this process of giving her the award, and you’ve probably observed a lot of these new doctors. What kind of impressions do you get just about the future of medicine when you see doctors like her coming up through the ranks and then you also see they’re being called to do things that are pretty extraordinary right now?

Hoffman: “I’ve said on several occasions and I’ve been on these either Zoom or conference calls with Dr. Gaur, maybe  three, four times already. She gives me great hope because of her energy and her understanding of medicine and her willingness to, and dedication to, medicine and her patients. And in her, I would say, almost thirst for knowledge and gaining skills. And that’s exactly what we need right now, are the young doctors who are willing and able to go help us through this pandemic. And then afterward, when this is over, I just have total confidence that Dr. Gaur is going to be a great doctor who, you know, even if you feel you don’t want to go to the doctor, but if you go to her I think you’re going to be in good hands.”

PN: You’re about to go to Johns Hopkins, um, in July. What are you going to be taking with you from your experiences here in Dallas and the medical community and with UT Southwestern? 

Gaur: “I think my main teachings come from my rotations that Parkland Health and Hospital system. I feel like the patients there showed me what you know, human suffering can look like in the healthcare context and how health is related to so many different other things. For example, your ability to work.

And I think understanding that people come from all different walks of life and health, health is contextualized in each story has been my biggest takeaway. So when I go to Baltimore, I want to take the time to get to know each patient, as possible, and I want to listen to their stories and grow from their stories. And I feel like that has a lot to do with this award too. I think most notably, I feel like when I talk to my mentors, they speak of my bedside manner and I feel like that those are the moments that I live for – talking to patients, just one-on-one, and being able to help them in that capacity.”

About the Ho Din Award:

“Originally established in 1943, the Ho Din Award is the highest honor bestowed by Southwestern Medical Foundation. The Award embodies the founding principles of the Foundation, which include compassion, human understanding, and medical wisdom,” the foundation said. “Recognizing those who exemplify these unique personal qualities, the Ho Din Award highlights the ideal physicians envisioned by the Award’s founders.”

Student Ho Din Award recipients today receive a $10,000 scholarship, Ho Din medal, and certificate.

Dr. Edward H. Cary, who co-founded the Southwestern Medical Foundation and the Southwestern Medical College, was among the first to receive the Ho Din Award. Cary had also served as head of both the Texas Medical Association and the American Medical Association.

On July 1, 1943, Dr. Cary gave a speech to the inaugural class of Southwestern Medical College: “This is an historic occasion, the beginning of something truly worthwhile for Dallas and the Southwest. It is the fruition of 40 years of effort by the best and highest-minded medical men in Dallas. Medicine belongs to all of the people. That is the goal of this Foundation.”

Other notable recipients of the Ho Din Award include 1966 honoree Dr. Joseph L. Goldstein, who went on to win the 1985 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

“Investing in medical students who not only gain medical expertise, but also have the capacity to provide thoughtful patient care, has always been a cornerstone of the Foundation and Medical School,” said James R. Huffines, chairman of Southwestern Medical Foundation’s board of trustees. “It is with great pride that we present the Ho Din Award to Dr. Gaur, who has demonstrated the qualities of exceptional physicians and will no doubt lead tremendous progress in her field of work.”


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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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