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Dean's Corner

By Elizabeth H. Simmons, January 3, 2017

As we prepare to enter the 50th anniversary year of Lyman Briggs College, I'd like to share an anecdote illustrating just what makes our educational community's work here so valuable.

Recently, I was in a hospital, chatting with a relative who was about to undergo a minor procedure. We'd been there for over two hours and the surgeon was running behind.

The nurse came by for routine measurements of blood pressure and pulse. A few minutes later, she sent a technician to take an electrocardiogram. Finally, the surgeon arrived. Scanning the EKG printout, he asked what medications the patient was taking. The answer appeared to startle him; he asked several pointed follow-up questions and, upon hearing of the patient's chronic exhaustion, hurried away abruptly.

After a brief pause, he reappeared, apologized for bringing us there for naught, and said there could be no procedure that day. The patient had not been given the appropriate medications to prepare for the procedure; under the circumstance, proceeding would add a severe unwarranted risk. He walked us carefully through the chain of reasoning, explaining how the pieces of evidence (pulse, EKG, exhaustion, medications) fit together to build toward his conclusions. He promised that preparation would ensue forthwith so the procedure could be rescheduled for a month hence, when the risk had been mitigated.

While coming to terms with my relative's near avoidance of a medical mishap, I realized that the situation illustrated what makes a Lyman Briggs education essential.

We need our scientists and physicians to have the sound training in performing evidence-based reasoning that this surgeon displayed: the ability to integrate disparate details from multiple sources into a holistic analysis of complex situations. We must be able to trust that they have not only acquired the technical skills required to undertake their life's work competently, but also internalized the value of safety protocols that enable them to work responsibly. We must be confident that they have a deep appreciation of the ethical and social implications of their work, so that they will act in ways that minimize risk to others, even when this requires transcending personal embarrassment over admitting errors.

This is why Lyman Briggs courses integrate concepts, inquiry, data-gathering, and analysis, why Briggs educators push students to participate actively in every class session, and why Briggs courses seem so demanding to students newly-arrived at the university. This is also why the Briggs curriculum braids the sciences and humanities together, rather than teaching them as disconnected domains of knowledge.

The work we do here as staff, advisors, course assistants, and teachers here in Lyman Briggs College to educate the next generation of scientists and physicians is immensely important. I'm proud to be part of it. Here's to the next 50 years!

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