Naomi Y. Ko, MD, MPH, is the recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. This award is presented to faculty who best demonstrate the foundation’s ideals of outstanding compassion in the delivery of care, respect for patients, their families and health-care colleagues, as well as clinical excellence.
An assistant professor of medicine who has served on the faculty since 2013, Ko is co-director of Breast Cancer as well as a medical oncologist at Boston Medical Center (BMC) specializing in the care of breast cancer patients. A colleague describes her as an incredibly bright and astute clinician who has high expectations of her trainees. “She taught me that correcting a patient’s kidney function or deescalating antibiotics was only a part of my job—teaching me to always see beyond a patient’s problem list. She reminded me to honor the whole patient, the way that I would want my own mother or son to be honored.”
Cherished by her colleagues, patients and medical students alike, Ko embodies the qualities of compassion and empathy as a caregiver and approaches teaching with sensitivity and openness. A nurse colleague said, “Dr. Ko is the only person who works twice as hard as to drop all expectations that her title will automatically gain the trust of her patients. She works for that trust at each encounter, be that in person, during telephone calls and via messages.”
With a lifelong passion for social justice, Ko participated in Teach for America followed by volunteer service at the Berkeley Free Clinic in the Bay Area after completing her undergraduate degree. She then went on to attend the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and School of Public Health where she received both her MD and MPH degrees with a focus on epidemiology and biostatistics to perform health outcomes research for vulnerable populations. After internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, she performed her fellowship in hematology/oncology at BUSM/BMC, which allowed her to specialize in oncology while conducting research in the context of caring for an underserved population within a large safety net institution. She has consistently sought out meaningful projects that are a culmination of her passion for oncology, service to the under-served and academic research.
Her research has a translational focus directed toward understanding the disconnect between scientific discoveries in cancer treatment and optimal delivery of evidence-based treatment to vulnerable, racial/ethnic minority women with breast cancer. She is investigating how tumor biology, poverty, communication and medical mistrust influence breast cancer outcomes in diverse breast cancer populations.
The Arnold P. Gold Foundation is a public, nonprofit organization founded by Drs. Arnold and Sandra Gold to perpetuate the tradition of the caring doctor by emphasizing the importance of the relationship between the practitioner and the patient. Our objective is to help physicians-in-training become doctors who combine the high tech skills of cutting edge medicine with the high touch skills of effective communication, empathy and compassion.