Guest speaker Dr. Abraham Verghese, “Physicians are Always Engaged in Stories”

This story was originally published on the news site for the John A. Burns School of Medicine, UHMedNow

Guest speaker Dr. Abraham Verghese, “Physicians are Always Engaged in Stories”

By Deborah Manog, UH Student Journalist
Blustery winds and pouring rain combined with Hawai`i’s Aloha Friday traffic rush could not keep away a near-packed auditorium to hear visiting Dr. Abraham Verghese, who was hosted by the University of Hawai`i Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) medical honor society, speak at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) on the evening of March 7, 2014.Dr. Verghese himself was caught in the traffic jam on his way to JABSOM and arrived several minutes later than expected. He confessed that when he was a medical student he had nightmares that he would be late for an exam but after medical school his nightmares took the form of being late to an event that he would be speaking at.“I think this was actually the first time where I was living the nightmare,” joked Dr. Verghese before delving into his presentation.His background as a writer, professor and physician supported his fast-paced speech that intertwined the importance of stories in relation to medicine and quality patient care. He chose specific passages from several of his favorite writers as well as his own personal experiences in the medical field to illustrate his main topics of story, character and metaphor.

“Sometimes a medical education doesn’t prepare us for the stories we’re about to hear,” said Dr. Verghese. “Stories are instructions for learning, they’re really the way we render instruction into our lives.”

Dr. Verghese also distinguished the clear difference between curing and healing and emphasized that medicine should focus on the latter.

He gave the example that if someone broke into your home and robbed you and the police later capture the robber and return your possessions then the problem is “cured.” However you as a person will not be “healed.” In fact, you may feel a sense of violation so strong and may even end up moving away from your home as a way to cope. He further explained that patients will often deal with the question “why me, why now” and that it is the physician’s duty to heal the patient through engaging with that aspect of the patient’s injury.

Dr. Verghese’s captivating words had carried on from earlier in the day when he led AOA students through the morning rounds at Queen’s Medical Center. His patient-bedside presence was so powerful that the students noticed some of the patient’s family members weeping in the background.

“He (Dr. Verghese) taught us that the true currency in the hospital is the relationship between the doctor and patient, not so much the doctor and the chest x-ray,” said fourth-year medical student Rachel Arakawa.

Click above to watch Dr. Verghese’s presentation at the John A. Burns School of Medicine. Or, view it directly on our UH MED Vimeo Channel at VERGHESE.

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For more information about Dr. Verghese’s visit and the JABSOM AOA students who invited him here, click here.