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Family makes $3 million donation for endowment in humanistic medicine

Correction appended.

The Miriam Hospital and the Alpert Medical School have received $3 million from the Sigal family to advance humanistic medicine and to establish an endowed professorship of humanistic medicine in the family's name.

Professor Medicine Fred Schiffman, an oncologist and hematologist, assumed the professorship on July 1. He is vice chairman of medicine at Alpert and associate physician in chief and director of medical education at the Miriam Hospital. He is a practicing physician and served as Irving Sigal's doctor during his illness.

Steven Sigal, son of the late Phyllis and Irving Sigal, indicated that the donation was his father's idea. "My father was thinking about what he wanted his legacy to be," he said. "He felt that he wanted to give something substantial to the community. He felt that the teachings and care that Schiffman and the rest of the staff at Miriam Hospital had given him ... was unique."

The donation will create a program that that defines the qualities of a humanistic doctor as "integrity, excellence, compassion, altruism, respect, empathy, and service," in keeping with the ideals of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for humanistic medicine.

The program plans to advance humanistic medicine at Alpert and its teaching hospitals by including such principles in the medical school's curriculum.

With the difficulties of pre-medical requirements, the pressure of the medical licensing exam and the countless hours that residents work, medical students can easily fall out of touch with their patients.

Sigal said his father wanted other patients to be able to get to know their doctors, instead of being "treated like a statistic."

Schiffman has already taken on the role of being a leader in humanistic medicine. He created a program that asks residents to read and analyze poetry for 15 minutes during their resident reports.  Recently, he also began a program called "Cops and Docs at the Museum." In the program, Providence police detectives and Brown medical residents go to museums and examine works of art. The activity allows police detectives and future physicians to understand that there are multiple ways to interpret the same information, he wrote in a presentation on the program.

"The Sigal family was truly generous and forward-thinking in creating this program and professorship," Schiffman said.

"It's not about us, per se," said Sigal about the donation. "It's not about our parents. It's about the curriculum. It's about improving the education for doctors that are involved in Rhode Island."

Jamie Sigal Manville, Steven Sigal, Andrew Sigal and Susan Sigal Bazar (along with their respective spouses) donated the money in honor of their parents.

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Jamie Sigal Manville. The Herald regrets the error.



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