OHSU

Message from Dean Richardson: Gratitude to the first patient

12/01/09  Portland, OR

Dean RichardsonThe year is drawing to a close and many of us are preparing to celebrate our own unique holiday traditions. Along with these celebrations, this is often a time for reflection. At the December 11th memorial service for the OHSU Body Donation Program, this sense of celebration and reflection – as well as gratitude – was pervasive.

During the ceremony – organized by first-year students from across OHSU – students shared tributes, songs, photos and stories with the family and friends of the body donors who are, in effect, their "first" patient in their anatomy lab. I was pleased to be invited to the memorial service.

The generosity of those who donate their bodies to education and research is truly exceptional. I want to share one story in particular with you. 

This year, one of our body donors was a retired Oregon surgeon. He knew of his impending death and before he died, decided to donate his body to medical education at OHSU. While still alive, he also crafted a challenge to our students. You see, when he was in medical school he was at the top of his anatomy class. He knew the importance of this foundational piece of a physician's education and so wrote a letter to our students asking them to learn from him and to strive for excellence. During orientation week, his letter was read aloud to all the students, and was doubly meaningful to the group who received his body. 

There's more. This surgeon also meticulously collected his own medical records and provided them along with a hand-drawn sketch of a significant past surgery. He then requested that a vascular surgeon give a background lecture and visit the lab to explain this surgery.

This amazing physician – and educator – valued his own early experiences in anatomy so much from his student days that he did, literally, everything he could to teach our students after his death to take full educational advantage of his donation. I was told by the faculty and students that there was not a dry eye in the class the day the letter was read. Likewise, the presentation by the vascular surgeon with the donor's daughter and son present was equally powerful. And after one of the students told their parents this story, the student's father signed up to be a body donor himself.

So many lives – today and in the future – can be touched by the actions of one individual. The ripple effect of a single act of generosity is enormous. Health care education, research and clinical care are among the highest callings and our actions have an effect well beyond the initial impact. The story of this surgeon's action exemplifies this truth in a powerful and unexpected way, but everything each of us does extends out into our community, into Oregon and beyond.

As we enter the season of celebration and gratitude, this simple truth seems all the more relevant and poignant.

Happy Holidays to everyone. And thank you for everything you do for the School of Medicine, OHSU and Oregon.

Best regards,
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Mark Richardson
Dean, OHSU School of Medicine
President, Faculty Practice Plan