Keck professor wins award after students’ nomination

They know him as a hero, a role model and a man of many bow ties, but Henri Ford’s students nominated him for a national award because of his dedication to teaching.

Teaching values · Professor Henri Ford said the most important thing he can do is set an example for his students with the way he leads his life. - Photo courtesy of USC News

Ford, a professor of surgery and vice dean for Medical Education at the USC Keck School of Medicine, received the American Association of Medical Colleges Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award on Saturday at the association’s annual meeting in Denver. The award is given to a medical school faculty member who mentors their students with care and compassion through teaching and advising.

John Mahajan, the student who submitted the proposal for Ford’s nomination, is USC’s primary representative for the Organization of Student Representatives, the AAMC body for undergraduate and graduate medical students. Mahajan said the award is a reflection of just how inspirational Ford is to everyone he comes in contact with, from his patients and peers to his students and international colleagues.

“Ford is the kind of doctor we all want to be,” Mahajan said. “He is a hero whom I look up to and professionally, he has done so much in his field internationally. Students love working with him, and this sets him apart. He is so humble and as a medical student, to be able to see someone who is so passionate about what he does in helping people, it is very inspiring.”

Ford, who also serves as vice president and chief of surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said his biggest priority has never been his own achievements but the success of his students.

“I am not doing anything different now from what I’ve done all my life,” Ford said. “Teaching and mentoring is part of my constitutional makeup, part of my own fabric.”

Ford said enthusiasm is vital to teaching.

“The essence of working with students … is to hopefully convey an infectious excitement for the field of medicine and learning in general,” Ford said. “It is important for them to recognize what they do will impact lives of others and does make a difference.”

Ford said his philosophy has always been to practice what he preaches to inspire students to do good work. When an earthquake hit his home country of Haiti in 2010, Ford left to provide medical aid to those in need.

“Regardless of my position, when the  earthquake hit Haiti, I had something to offer,” Ford said. “I didn’t hesitate to drop everything and go. My service would be of the greatest help and have the biggest impact on lives of interest — children.”

Ford’s work in Haiti has particularly influenced his students.

“When the earthquake happened, I was able to interview him when he came back,” Majahan said. “Listening to him speak about what happened there, it changed me that day.”

Mahajan said Ford’s dedication moved him.

“Watching him, you could just see that he bears the burden of that country of his shoulders, and he is so involved in transforming the country, as he has gone back to Haiti many times,” Mahajan said. “The passion he had [makes it clear that] he really is trying to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Ford said the opportunity to teach is not one he takes lightly.

“As an educator, you are influencing the practice of medicine for years, decades to come,” Ford said. “It is a unique privilege.”

Ford said his receipt of the award shows his students took his messages to heart.

“The recognition of students says that the role modeling … is working,” Ford said. “More importantly, it tells me something about the medical students’ own values — that they recognize what is important — to see someone who is concerned about their education and wants to see them reach their full potential.”

He said his work outside the classroom corresponds with what he teaches to his students.

“At the end of day, you can talk all you want,” Ford said. “What they see in you and what they see you do is the most important lesson that will impact them for the rest of their lives.”