Five current docents at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the de Young Museum and the Palace of the Legion of Honor) have discovered one thing they all have in common. They are all UCSF retirees.

Virginia Ernster, Ph.D. (who was Professor and Chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UCSF School of Medicine); Barbara Jensen, M.D. (Clinical Professor, Oncology, at the VAMC-SF); Carol Porter, Ph.D., R.D. (Director of Nutrition Services, UCSF Hospitals); Carol Fox (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs at UCSF); and Mary Pat Cress (who was Admissions Officer, UCSF School of Medicine) are pictured here.

All began life as docents following their retirement from UCSF. To qualify to lead public tours, they initially spent two years in a training program devoted to the museums’ permanent collections in European art, American Art, Oceanic Art, African Art, and art of the ancient Americas.

Since then they have variously participated in specialty training in such areas as sculpture, ancient art, decorative arts, photography, textiles, porcelain, and works on paper. Sources of ongoing continuing education include weekly lectures from renowned art historians, participation in specialty study groups, art history tomes, exhibition catalogues, and online research, as well as field trips to museums near and far.

Docents select the works of art included in each of their tours and are responsible for preparing the material presented, so that no two docents give the same tour, and they learn new material on an ongoing basis in order to lead tours for the many visiting exhibitions hosted by the museums.

Some give lectures at the museums and other community venues. All are unpaid volunteers but say that the rewards of serving as docents are priceless: the stimulation of learning about great works of art and about the artists and cultures that have produced them, the opportunity to share that information with the public, and the wonderful camaraderie that develops among the docents themselves.

All five agree that the skill set acquired at UCSF — whether through research, teaching, administration, or interaction with patients, students and colleagues — has served them well in their new second “careers” as museum docents.