Don’t just do something, stand there” is a favorite mantra of Adira Hulkower’s, and one that she reminds herself of daily. In her profession, it simply means that sometimes the real work is just being present and listening.
Hulkower ’97S, ’00C is the chief of the Bioethics Consultation Service at Montefiore Medical Center and an assistant professor of epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In this role, she helps patients, families and clinicians navigate complex medical decisions, and her deep empathy and listening skills are a key part of the job. Whether she is with patients or her students, her message is the same: the most important thing a bioethics consultant can do is be present and bear witness to people’s stories.
Hulkower knew early in life that she wanted to be in public service. After graduating from Stern College for Women and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, she first found her calling as a Legal Aid attorney representing abused and neglected children. In this job, she experienced firsthand how easily vulnerable people in traumatic circumstances can lose their individuality and ability to advocate for themselves in systems intended to support them. Despite the best intentions, it can be “easy to compartmentalize and overlook the humanity of people when rushing through a court calendar or from bedside to bedside,” she said.
As a bioethics consultant, Hulkower is determined that her patients’ values and voices are heard. In her work at Montefiore, where she juggles nearly 200 cases a year, the patient’s fundamental right to be treated with dignity is her top priority.
Most of her days are spent interacting with clinicians, patients and families, and of course, listening. “When I take the time to slow down this process, to sit at conference room tables and bedsides and learn their stories, my recommendations become so much more textured. I’m able to help patients, families and clinicians reach more individualized and ethically sound resolutions, whether in choosing a plan of care or an end-of-life decision,” she said.
Working with patients who cannot make independent decisions and have no friends or family to speak for them because of advanced age, illness or intellectual disabilities is especially meaningful to her. She is moved by the enormous impact her work may have on their lives. “Being present for these patients who have no one is a profound responsibility and honor,” said Hulkower. Her patients at Montefiore are fortunate to have such an advocate. Yeshiva University is proud to call her an alumna.