In the fall 2015 issue of The Pharos, Alpha Omega Alpha’s quarterly journal, Richard C. Christensen, MD, MA, explained how much his patients and their struggles had taught him. “Through my work as an academic community psychiatrist, I have been given the somewhat unique opportunity, and privilege, to dedicate my full professional energies to caring for mentally ill persons experiencing homelessness,” he wrote.
Shortly after the article was published, Christensen was hit by a car and killed on Thanksgiving Day while in Africa working on a Habitat for Humanity building project.
Christensen was a UF College of Medicine professor in the department of psychiatry’s division of community psychiatry and director of behavioral health services at the Sulzbacher Center, a center for the homeless in Jacksonville. He was a pioneer in the field of behavioral health for the homeless and relentless in his efforts to bring attention to this population.
In March, the UF College of Medicine class of 2016 voted unanimously to posthumously bestow Christensen with the college’s highest teaching honor, the Hippocratic Award. Under a canopy of trees in UF Wilmot Gardens, Christensen’s wife, Kathy, and son, Chris, accepted the award on his behalf May 3. It was the first time the Hippocratic Award was given posthumously and the second time Christensen was honored. The award is given by the graduating class to recognize a faculty member who is not only an outstanding teacher but also a superb clinician, mentor and role model.
At the ceremony, Carl Herndon, MD ’16, read from one of Christensen’s own speeches. In summary, he said, “Remember to always use the patient’s name rather than a diagnostic label; to always look at patients, not a chart or a phone or lab results; to spend time with patients, meet their families and learn what gives meaning to their lives; and finally, to find a way to say goodbye to patients at the clinic, in their hospital rooms and even at the end of their lives.”
Christensen’s son, Chris, accepted the award.
“On behalf of our family, thank you very much for honoring the legacy of Dr. Christensen,” he said. “Please help his work live on.”