Dr. Elise Desperito Receives the 2020 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award

Elise Desperito, MD, assistant professor of radiology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), was awarded the 2020 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award by Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Desperito received the award virtually on May 6, 2020, at the VP&S commencement.

The award, sponsored and administered by the Gold Foundation, recognizes one faculty member and one graduating student each year who “demonstrate both clinical excellence and outstanding compassion in the delivery of care and who show respect for patients, their families, and healthcare colleagues.”

Dr. Desperito is the interim chief of the Division of Breast Imaging and the program director of the Diagnostic Radiology Residency. She also serves as a preceptor and coach for medical students during their major clinical year (MCY).

As a radiologist, Dr. Desperito interprets mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and breast MRIs, often delivering results directly to patients. She also performs needle localizations and breast biopsies for patients suspected of having breast cancer. “When she gives a patient news of a positive result, she is one hundred percent there for the patient,” says Carrie Ruzal-Shapiro, MD, professor of radiology and chief of the Division of Pediatric Radiology, who helped nominate Dr. Desperito for the award. “She will compassionately sit with a patient as if she has all the time in the world, discussing the result, the implications of a cancer diagnosis, and the fears the patient might have. She calms and buoys spirits without minimizing the disease and often difficult road ahead.”

As an educator, Dr. Desperito is known for her high standards as well as her sympathy, respect, and understanding. She has encouraged, sponsored, and accompanied residents on many international missions through RADAID and has traveled to Haiti several times to bring her own expertise to an underserved population. Every Thanksgiving weekend, she volunteers, along with her residents, at a soup kitchen in New York City.

“She is a beloved preceptor and coach for medical students in the FCM (Foundations of Clinical Medicine) course,” says Michael Devlin, MD, professor of psychiatry at CUIMC and course director for the major clinical year foundations courses at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Additionally, she is a preceptor of the Major Clinical Year Foundation course, where she meets students in their clerkship groups for reflection, and she is equally beloved. “

Dr. Desperito is the first member of the Department of Radiology to receive the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, which was launched in 1991 at Columbia.