It’s not often that high school students have the opportunity to meet a best-selling author, but that’s what happened recently when the students in Anacapa School’s AP Literature class spent an inspiring hour with Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone.
Under the sponsorship of Northern Trust and as guests of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the California Literary Arts Society, the students enjoyed a private session with the author followed by a luncheon at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.
In preparation for meeting Dr. Verghese, students read and discussed his acclaimed novel, which is listed on the New York Times best-seller list.
Teacher Peggy Lauer said the students were all enthusiastic about the book on several levels. They were particularly drawn to Dr. Verghese’s stellar prose, his compelling characters and the intriguing Ethiopian setting. They were also curious about the political events of the civil war in Ethiopia, which served as a backdrop for part of the novel.
Dr. Verghese engaged the students, putting them at ease right away by first finding out about them individually, including each one’s favorite book. A professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr. Verghese is comfortable and skilled in his interactions with students, and he quickly drew them into a lively exchange.
With his open, cordial and friendly demeanor, he welcomed their questions about his life, his techniques as a writer, and his role as a practicing physician and medical school professor.
“His affable personality was welcoming,” senior Brenda Renteria said, “and I think it allowed our class to have a meaningful conversation with him.”
After the class’ private session with the author, there was more “book talk” at the literary society’s luncheon. Before beginning his talk, Dr. Verghese remarked to the audience that they needn’t worry about the future if the Anacapa students are going to be in charge.
While Dr. Verghese talked about his childhood in Ethiopia and the development of his career, the heart of his speech reflected one of the important messages of his novel — his conviction that doctors need to listen to their patients. He expressed his concern over the abbreviated time doctors can spend with their patients in a system where technology seems to have taken over. He told the audience that, in his teaching of medical students, he stresses the importance of the doctor taking a full history and doing a complete hands-on examination of the patient before ordering tests. The students especially took to heart Dr. Verghese’s assertion that one of the most important treatments of a patient is “administered by ear.” That therapy is, he said, “words of comfort.”
In class the next day, the Anacapa students expressed their feelings of inspiration. They felt they had indeed been in the presence of a wise man.
“I felt almost star-struck,” senior Molly Snyder said.
Junior Gazal Homayouni described the impact that reading the book and meeting the author had had on her: “Dr. Verghese said that he wanted to become a surgeon after reading Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, and I think that Cutting for Stone has made me even more interested in entering the medical field.”
— Sheryn Sears is executive administrator for Anacapa School.