As members of the WMed community – faculty, staff, students, and residents – gathered in the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus Auditorium on October 29, the atmosphere was one of shared grief and reflection.
It was also a moment of remembrance, of celebration of the life of Rebekah Sharp, MD, a beloved faculty member who passed away on August 29.
"Today is about sharing our memories and celebrating the time that we were gifted to spend with Dr. Sharp," said Dr. Angelica Lorenzo, a fourth-year resident in the Obstetrics and Gynecology residency program at WMed who worked closely with Dr. Sharp.
Dr. Lorenzo told those who attended the memorial service how she was thankful to call Dr. Sharp her mentor and friend, how Dr. Sharp was always willing to help and provide a listening ear, how Dr. Sharp helped make her a better physician. She recalled the times they spent together in Dr. Sharp's office discussing patient care, ideas for the OB-GYN residency program, life challenges, dreams, and goals.
"I feel so lucky that I was able to get to know her better," Dr. Lorenzo said.
Dr. Sharp began her duties at WMed in 2018 as an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, following a nearly 11-year stint as a physician in private practice at OB-GYN, P.C. in Kalamazoo. She was a familiar face at WMed, having served as a clinical assistant professor for almost two years prior to joining the medical school, teaching students during their third-year OB/GYN clerkships. Dr. Sharp was named program director for the medical school’s OB/GYN residency program earlier this year.
Dr. Sharp earned her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine in 2003 and completed her residency in OB/GYN in 2007 at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, where she served as chief resident in her final year of training. She was a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and a North American Menopause Society Certified Menopause Practitioner.
In her spare time, Dr. Sharp loved traveling and enjoyed sewing, and craft projects of all kinds.
“The loss of Dr Sharp has demonstrated something that I intuitively knew but had not recognized explicitly – each one of us who works at a medical school touches many lives and often we do not even realize who has benefited from our presence,” Dean Paula M. Termuhlen, MD, told the crowd who attended the Celebration of Life for Dr. Sharp. “The circles in which Dr Sharp worked brought so much healing, mentorship and joy to those around her and it is important that we recognize her many contributions and inspire us to do more for the people we serve. It is also important that her loss serves to commit us more deeply to supporting physicians and others who suffer from the depression that leads to suicide.”
Colleagues and residents who worked closely with Dr. Sharp planned the Celebration of Life event at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus. The service provided a time to reflect on the life of a physician who touched the lives of so many through her teaching, patient care, and service to the medical school and the community of Southwest Michigan.
Dr. Michael Mattia, a third-year Family Medicine resident at WMed, said he got the opportunity to work with Dr. Sharp during his OB-GYN rotations and he valued how Dr. Sharp focused on making sure residents were growing as physicians and always made them feel comfortable enough to ask questions and learn.
"It was definitely a privilege to work with her," Dr. Mattia said.
Dr. Mattia, a veteran, told those gathered in the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus Auditorium that the military has a motto that "no one is gone unless they're forgotten."
"Both myself and the senior residents, the senior faculty, the Family Medicine program as a whole just wanted to come out and let you guys know that Dr. Sharp will never be forgotten," Dr. Mattia said. "She's always going to be a part of us, part of our training ... she's never going to be forgotten."
As Dr. Mattia and others spoke at the memorial service, they walked away from the lectern and stopped at a nearby table where OB-GYN residents had placed a blank canvas, paint and paintbrushes for each person to add a color and help construct a painting in Dr. Sharp's memory. The painting, which will be hung in the OB-GYN clinic at the medical school's Oakland Drive Campus, was a fitting way to remember Dr. Sharp, who Dr. Lorenzo said was "one crafty chick."
“I’m just so thankful for the lessons I learned from Dr. Sharp and I will take them with me for the rest of my life, throughout my training and throughout my career," said M4 Maria Magidenko.
Magidenko said she appreciated how Dr. Sharp helped her grow as an aspiring physician and to learn from her mistakes. She said Dr. Sharp always welcomed her with open arms and made her feel a part of the OB-GYN residency program even as a medical student.
"One of the things that always struck us is her incredible generosity of time and presence," said Karen Horneffer-Ginter, PhD, the medical school's associate dean for Culture and Wellness, who worked closely with Dr. Sharp on WMed's Rewards and Recognition team. "She was such a huge part of our family here at WMed in so many different ways."
The death of Dr. Sharp was an immense loss at WMed. But Dr. Termuhlen said her memory will live on at WMed through new initiatives that were announced during the Celebration of Life service.
Annually, beginning in September, in conjunction with National Physician Suicide Awareness Day, the Department of Psychiatry and the WMed Wellness Initiative will host an educational event to help members of the medical school community recognize and respond to the warning signs of burnout and suicidal risk. The event will also encourage ongoing conversation regarding ways to continue to promote a culture of well-being.
Additionally, the Rebekah Sharp, MD, Intern Award has been established in memory and recognition of Dr. Sharp’s career at WMed as a dedicated educator and resident advocate. The award will be given to the OB/GYN intern who demonstrates the qualities Dr. Sharp personified – compassion for colleagues and patients, evidence-based clinical care, and always seeing the best in everyone. The recipient of the award will be chosen by the chief resident class and core department faculty.
“As a community, we need to continue to support each other moving forward,” Dr. Termuhlen said. “I want to express my gratitude for all of you and the work that you do daily.”