Name: Stephen Berns, MD
Title: Director of Education for Palliative Medicine, Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital; Associate Program Director, Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellowship, The Mount Sinai Health System
Advice to the Next Generation of Caregivers: Berns encourages young caregivers to cultivate their listening skills because sometimes just listening in silence can be very impactful. He also suggests never bringing an agenda to the first encounter with a patient—leave it at the door and be open to what that patient has to say.
Interesting Facts: When he’s not at work, Berns loves running, music, cooking (especially fusion cuisines), traveling and singing. He enjoys being out surrounded by nature and its beauty and tries to get outside as much as he can.
Schwartz Center Activities: Schwartz Rounds™ physician leader at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital
“One of the most fulfilling aspects about working with patients and their families are their stories. Knowing who they are beyond a disease. Knowing how enriched their lives are. Being a palliative care physician, it is such a privilege to be on the journey with patients for their most sacred moments.” – Stephen Berns, MD
Stephen Berns grew up in a household where awareness of all cultures was encouraged and the human connection celebrated. His parents, both special education teachers, inspired his passion for understanding and helping others.
Berns is now a palliative care physician at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He did his residency and fellowship in internal medicine before becoming a chief year in internal medicine. He is also the associate program direction for Mount Sinai’s hospice and palliative medicine fellowship, which is now one of the largest programs in the country.
“One of the most fulfilling aspects about working with patients and their families are their stories. Knowing who they are beyond a disease. Knowing how enriched their lives are,” said Berns. “Being a palliative care physician, it is such a privilege to be on the journey with patients for their most sacred moments.”
An avid singer and lover of music, Berns strives to incorporate music into his everyday life, from listening to a song while on a jog or singing and playing guitar with his coworkers.
One day, he heard about a patient who was a big Sound of Music fan. She was dying and wanted to listen to the soundtrack, but her family couldn’t locate a CD. Berns and his coworkers decided to improvise and sing to her.
“I remember singing ‘Edelweiss,’ while it snowed outside. It was such a touching moment for my team and brought this amazing chill to the room. It was just a very powerful moment,” said Berns.
Incorporating his love of music into his practice not only benefits Berns, but also everyone around him. Taking time out of the day for small acts of compassion like these are sometimes the ones that can make the biggest difference for patients, families and caregivers themselves.
Berns first became familiar with the Schwartz Center when the Schwartz Rounds program was implemented at Mount Sinai Hospital while he was a medical student. It sparked an interest in him seeing people talk about things about which they were passionate, and he wanted that to happen as often as possible. As he became a resident and then chief resident, he wanted all his residents to become more involved with Schwartz Rounds and experience this platform to speak about what they were feeling.
Berns recalls a particularly powerful patient story involving the irreplaceable relationship between a mother and daughter. Berns had been caring for a young woman dying from gynecologic cancer. With a six-year-old daughter at home, she voiced to Berns that all she wanted to do was give her daughter a hug, but did not have the money to return home (she was currently staying in New York to get cancer care). Berns’ team started a money pool with the social work department to help ensure that this young woman could return to her daughter.
They raised enough money to send the patient on a flight back home to Mississippi. After visiting with her daughter, the mother sent Berns and his team a photo of her hugging her daughter, which consequentially brought them all to tears.
“It was just so amazing that we could manage to do something like that. It was a really good, happy moment for us,” said Berns. “We have each other, and we are here to hold one another up. I think that is a very powerful message in the end.”