The human side of a cancer healer

Mo Milhem portrait

Based on a nomination from one of his students, Mohammed Milhem, MBBS, will receive this year’s coveted Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award given by the international Arnold P. Gold Foundation to one faculty member and student at the nation’s select medical schools. This year’s student award winner for the UI Carver College of Medicine is senior Aaron Lacy.

According to the anonymous student nominating Milhem: “When patients speak highly of the University of Iowa and how great everyone is here, it is without a doubt in no small part due to direct care from and the culture created by Dr. Milhem.”

Online praise from “Dr. Mo’s” patients

News of Milhem’s award created a flurry of on-line acknowledgements from students and colleagues, as well as accolades from patients and family members who’ve been in Milhem’s care.

“I am the daughter of one of his current patients. He has been so kind and knowledgeable as he treats our mom. Blessed and grateful to have him (and his staff) on our side. Congratulations Dr. Mo!”

“As a patient of yours I am blessed to have you. You are more than just a cancer doctor. You’re always searching for something better for treating patients, collaborating with your colleagues, and your compassion shows it. I trust you and I thank you.”

“A cancer diagnosis is terrifying and Dr. Mo made me feel better.”

Leader and healer

Milhem, a clinical professor in Hematology, Oncology, and Blood and Marrow Transplantation, holds the Holden Family Endowed Chair in Experimental Therapeutics. He serves as associate director for clinical research and deputy director for clinical services at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Cited in the nomination as “one of the hardest working doctors in the hospital system,” Milhem puts in long days to keep his administrative duties from overcoming the work he loves—healing his patients.

In a video interview that introduces him to prospective patients, his dedication to the patient in his exam room is clear: “The one thing I tell patients to remember when they’re about to meet their cancer doctor is that we are human, too,” Milhem says. “That’s why for me it’s so important during that initial meeting to create a nice homey feeling before I embark on trying to explain what it is that has happened to you. I want you to know that I am on your side.”

Philosopher as well

Several of Milhem’s patients follow his campaign against cancer through his blog titled “Doctor Mo Iowa.”

“I’m here to kill you,” he says to his enemy Cancer in a recent post titled “Dialogue.”

“These are my words when I look at cancer,” he continues. “A long battle is about to ensue. This is the enemy I know well. On this battlefield, a new sword has to be forged, to fight in the face of fear, uncertainty, and discouragement.

“Every day a different person walks into my life and stands stronger against this common threat.

“I believe that is why I am here, ready with a new treatment, a loaded gun and many tricks up my sleeve.”