In Memoriam: Koji Nakashima, MD, Hospital Medicine Unit
Brigham and Women’s Hospital mourns the loss of Koji Nakashima, MD, an associate physician in the Hospital Medicine Unit (HMU) and its associate director of Education, who died March 19 from advanced kidney cancer. He was 47.
A member of the Brigham community for over 15 years, Dr. Nakashima cared for the thousands of patients and taught innumerable residents and medical students.
“Dr. Nakashima was one of the Hospital Medicine Unit’s most admired and accomplished clinical educators,” said Christopher Roy, MD, director of the Hospital Medicine Unit. “During his time with us, he mentored countless trainees, students and junior faculty. His approachable, laid-back style, kindness and gentle sense of humor immediately put students, house staff and colleagues at ease.”
For so many across the Brigham, Dr. Nakashima was a valued colleague and physician, revered teacher and a supportive mentor and adviser who was generous with his time.
“People sought him out for advice because he just listened, no matter how busy he was,” added Roy.
Johanna P. Baldassari, NP, of the Faulkner Advanced Clinician Team (FACT) service (part of the HMU), as well as chief advanced practice provider for BWFH, recalled that Dr. Nakashima taught her a great deal over the years since he first joined the Brigham.
“Koji was everything that you would want in a physician and a colleague,” she shared. “He was brilliant, compassionate, witty, incredibly efficient and a team player. He took the time to explain, teach and answer all my questions. I am grateful for all that he taught me over the years.”
Dr. Nakashima’s family instilled in him the value of service, and his career and work are a testament to this legacy. In 2009, he completed a combined Medicine-Pediatrics Residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital and the Brigham’s Global Health Equity Residency Program. This experience provided him with the opportunity to work with Partners in Health (PIH) in Haiti, where he devoted many years of service, including the response to the January 2010 earthquake.
Koji worked with PIH in Haiti for a number of years on a variety of initiatives, including becoming an integral part of the emergency response to the 2010 earthquake and cholera epidemics, co-leading the establishment of physical rehabilitation services and supporting the Right to Care program for people with complex illness who needed treatment outside of Haiti. He and his wife, Erin George, CNM, PhD, a former member of the BWH Nurse Midwifery Service, also worked together in Haiti. Read more about their work with PIH in Haiti here.
In addition to his service and role as an inspiring educator and mentor, Dr. Nakashima is also remembered for his dedication to his family.
“What stood out to me was the clear and demonstrable way that Koji prioritized his role as a parent,” said Matthew Vitale, MD, associate director of the Hospital Medicine Unit and medical director of the Brigham’s Physician Assistant Clinical Educator (PACE) Service. “While he was a truly exceptional educator, an astute clinician and a thoughtful community member — in a place where people are faced with so many competing priorities — Koji very clearly had a deep anchor in his role of parent that foundationally drove his course. That was so clear to all of us around him. It was the guiding role for him that informed everything he did or didn’t do.”
He made a similar impression on Paula Goldman, MPH, division administrator of General Internal Medicine and Primary Care. “Koji was devoted to his family and his clinical effort,” she said.
Colleagues recalled that Dr. Nakashima went out of his way to make people feel appreciated and respected.
“He exuded kindness. It just radiated from his being,” said Baldassari.
Dr. Nakashima was admired for his wisdom, humanity, joy and generosity of spirit and heart.
“He truly appreciated the beauty in everyday life, finding hope and optimism even in the most difficult situations,” said Roy.
Goldman added, “He certainly saw the light that life can offer. It is so sad that he left this world way too early.”
Dr. Nakashima earned his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and medical degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Medicine-Pediatrics and Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. After residency, he became a faculty member of the Brigham’s Division of Global Health Equity before transitioning to the HMU in 2012.
Dr. Nakashima is survived by his wife, Erin, and daughters, Fiona and Bridget.
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