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Endowed Chair Honors Founder of McGovern Center
Karff began the program to teach the importance of healing the whole person, not just the disease
Honoring the spark that became the blaze known as the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities and Human Spirit is the goal of the newly established endowed chair for that center.
The Samuel E. Karff, D.H.L., Chair at the McGovern Center recognizes the founder of the center, Rabbi Karff, who began the program seven years ago on a smaller scale in The University of Texas School of Public Health, but with the same mission - teaching health care providers the importance of healing the whole person, not just the disease.
"I was invited by Dr. David Low (then president of the UT Health Science Center at Houston) to begin a program at the School of Public Health to teach the non-biomedical determinants of health and well-being, and it mushroomed beyond my fondest expectations," said Karff, adjunct professor of society and health.
The center, which is directed now by Tom Cole, Ph.D., and associate directors Karff and Stanley Reiser, M.D., Ph.D., is based at the UT Medical School at Houston and is a tribute to Sir William Osler, who taught that the practice of medicine is an art, not a trade.
The idea to fund a chair in Karff's name came soon after last year's $3.5 million gift from the John P. McGovern Foundation to fund the center.
"When the McGovern Foundation was good enough to fund an entire center for Rabbi Karff's program, I wanted to make sure that his name was remembered with the program through the years," said Barry Lewis, longtime UT Health Science Center Development Board member and friend of Karff's.
"The whole program just ‘smacks' of Sam Karff - concerned about the receiver of the care, the patient, and, too, he is concerned about the care giver. He is attacking a problem that is worthy, and he is just a wonderful person," Lewis said.
It didn't take long to garner support for the chair, including the backing of James T. Willerson, M.D., president of the health science center; Stanley Schultz, M.D., former dean of the Medical School; and Cole - all of whom wanted to recognize Karff's role in founding the program.
"I want to give thanks to all of the people who contributed - and that is everyone we asked. We quit when we crossed the bridge of how much money we needed to raise for the endowed chair. Yet when some people heard of the project, they still wanted to participate, and that is quite a compliment to Rabbi Karff," said Lewis, who spearheaded the project and has known Karff and his wife, Joan, since they moved to Houston in the early 1970s.
Karff said of the honor, "I am humbled and grateful. This place has come to mean a lot to me in a short time - it is a meaningful vocation after my retirement from my congregation.
"I want future physicians to understand that it is not sufficient to address just the disease. And with the sacred vocation project, if we want the health care provider in the hospital setting to nurture the spirit of the patient, then we must nurture the providers," Karff explained.
The Karffs hosted a reception in their home Nov. 6 to thank all those who made gifts to establish the Karff Chair. At the reception UT Health Science Center at Houston President James T. Willerson, M.D., thanked donors for their investment in the education of medical students and in the mission of the school.
In appreciation for Lewis' leadership in fundraising for the chair, Willerson presented Lewis with a framed print of the Torah with an inscription that reads: "It is a tree of life to those who grasp hold of it and those who retain their hold upon it gain happiness and fulfillment. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace. Length of days are at its right and at its left are riches and honor." A plaque at the bottom says, "Your generosity knows no bounds."
Funds are still being accepted to grow the endowed chair in Karff's name. For information, contact Keri.Valdes@uth.tmc.edu or 713-500-5065.
By Darla Brown, Medical School