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Stepping Back in Time to Teach Medicine

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From left: Yvonne Spreckels, Director, Community Relations, SBUMC; Theodore Gabig, Acting Director, SBU Cancer Center; Rose Cardin, Associate Director of Nursing and Service Line Administrator for Cancer Services; Kara Hahn, President, Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook; Gloria Rocchio, WMHO President; Anna Kerekes, WMHO Trustee; Olga Belleau, V.P., State Bank of Long Island; and Michael Hayman, Associate Director for Research, SBU Cancer Center.

Stony Brook medical students are stepping out of their 21st-century medical training into the garb and ways of the 18th century to teach elementary school students about the history of American medicine from the late 1700’s to today. They will teach through the lens of the life of Dr. Samuel Thompson, a self-educated 18th-century physician, at his home, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s (WMHO) 300-year-old Thompson House.

Developed by WMHO and Stony Brook University Medical Center, the on-site interactive program is designed to spark students’ interest in the fields of science, research, and medicine. Called “Medicine: Past, Present, and Future,” the program combines the historical expertise of the WMHO staff with the knowledge of 21st-century medicine via the medical students. While geared toward fourth to seventh grade students, the program can be adapted for adults as well and is available for groups by appointment year-round.

SB medical students teach the 1.5-hour program in the first person as Dr. Thompson’s apprentice. Children are first brought back to 1789, when Dr. Thompson used a mortar and pestle in his kitchen to grind an assortment of herbs as medicines. The other rooms of the Thompson House (c. 1709) are used to bring students through the centuries to learn about how medical practices changed.

Students also become part of the program as “patients” of the apprentice while learning about illnesses of the past, such as yellow fever and consumption. Dr. Thompson’s apprentice demonstrates how a broken leg was set on one of the “patients” in 1789 and how the techniques change through the centuries, culminating in the current methods by way of a demonstration on Smart Board Technology in the 21st century room.

“This program is going to be a fun way give back to the Long Island community, while at the same time learn about the history of medicine and how we as a society have evolved to practice the way we do today,” said Pyranka Relan, a second-year medical student and one of approximately 10 SB med students who will serve as program educators.

Enhancing the educational program is information about the life of Dr. Thompson, who was an American patriot, lived in the house in the 1700s, practiced as a physician and may have even treated some member of George Washington’s Spy Ring. Dr. Thompson was also a farmer and prestigious leader of the Setauket community.

Coinciding with the 300th anniversary celebration of the Thompson House and program launch was a check presentation by the WMHO to SBUMC for $50,000—proceeds from the 2009 Walk for Beauty, Walk for Life. Co-sponsored by the WMHO and SBUMC, the Walk for Beauty raises funds for breast and prostate cancer research.

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