Life Never Ends: TCU’s Silent Mentors Teach Us the Meaning of Great Love

“The patient who will be helped by Silent Mentors might be you or me”. In 1994, Tzu Chi College of Medicine was founded, and we were badly in need of Silent Mentors, thus Dharma Master Cheng Yen appealed to the public that, “we do not possess our lives, and instead, we only have the right to use them”, which inspired many people to give of themselves for medical education after their passing.

Because of trust, the Silent Mentor Program continues to this day, for the same reason, with many impossible tasks being completed, and many touching stories have been written. To fully present Silent Mentors’ intentions and persistence, as well as their contributions to medical education, Tzu Chi University and Rhythm Magazine co-published Life Never Ends, written by Wen-Ying Yeh, which took four years to complete. Its readers might have waited for a period of time, for it to arrive, but the Silent Mentors’ stories in this book are worth taking time to read.

The book Life Never Ends: Silent Mentors Illuminate Tzu Chi University’s Medical Simulation Center contains four parts: “Becoming a Physician”, “Unforgettable Names”, “Love at Minus 30 Degrees Celsius”, and “Burning Solitude”. It depicts how Tzu Chi University teaches anatomy, the altruistic giving of Silent Mentors, the essence of teaching simulation surgery, and an introduction of those who for years have stood behind and done their best for the Silent Mentor Program. 

Professor Guo-Fang Tseng, director of the Medical Simulation Center spent his time editing this book. He said that it is unprecedented, since no one was willing to spend such a long time in interviews. He was deeply touched to know that a father and daughter were Silent Mentors and a Silent Mentor’s family communicated with students for twenty years. Moreover, one student played three roles, namely student, Silent Mentor’s family member, and Tzu Chi volunteer.

The author interviewed Dr. Jui-Chih Chang for the part on “Becoming a Physician”. Dr. Chang is director of the Department of Surgery, Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital. More than twenty years ago, Dr. Chang was a medical student who was afraid to perform a surgical procedure on a Silent Mentor’s chest, but now, he is quite capable of performing heart surgery. He has never forgotten his first Silent Mentor of more than twenty years ago, and feels grateful to his Silent Mentor, whom he called Grandfather Kang. Kang’s family members are Catholic, but after learning of the Silent Mentor program, Mr. Kang realized that it would be very helpful for enhancing medical students’ professionalism and humanism. Therefore, he decided to be a Silent Mentor. Mr. Kang’s eldest daughter also became a Silent Mentor 22 years later, and Dr. Chang participated in her memorial service as a Kang family member. Mr. Kang’s eldest son said, “Every family member of ours will come to Tzu Chi University eventually”.

The author also interviewed Zi-Qiang Wu, who became a medical student at the age of 27, to realize his dream of helping people directly. In his freshman year, he participated as a volunteer in a memorial service held for Silent Mentors. During the junior year, while attending an anatomy class and learning from another’s father, he was shocked to learn that his father was diagnosed with the final stage of cancer and passed later on. After passing, his father became a Silent Mentor. Zi-Qiang played three roles: student, Silent Mentor’s family member, and volunteer. He knew very well that his father had contributed a lot to medical education. “The world is the same, however I lost a family member”. Losing his father was saddening, but he gradually let go the sad feeling and kept going.

Unforgettable Names” tells the stories of several Silent Mentors, which also allows us to understand the feelings of their family members. “Love at Minus 30 Degrees Celsius” portrays the significance and necessity of this training in the eyes of physicians, who are members of numerous medical associations and have attended training sessions. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, many physicians decided not to attend training overseas, and chose to take part in training sponsored by the University’s Silent Mentor Program. After attending, they were amazed that Taiwan is able to provide such high quality training.

Tzu Chi University invited Dr. Kanao, who was from Tokyo, Japan to guide participants to conduct gynecology related endoscopy and minimally invasive surgery. After the program ended, Dr. Kanao shared his feeling that “The University has good people and equipment, and I felt as if I was performing an operation on a real patient”. He even mistakenly thought that he was operating on a patient, and regards Tzu Chi as number one.

“Burning Solitude” mentions that Tzu Chi Foundation has assisted Tzu Chi University to set up a network for body donations. Furthermore, the Masters at Jing Si Abode and Tzu Chi volunteers have attended humanistic ceremonies and provided full support to members of the Medical Simulation Center. These Masters and volunteers burned with enthusiasm and did their best, helping to perform all the rituals, which are filled with humanism. After attending the ceremonies, some family members were moved and said that they had never known we can face death this way.

Ming-Liang Lee, the first president of Tzu Chi University and a former minister of the Ministry of Health, pointed out that humanistic culture is a very important nutrient for medical education. Tzu Chi University uses different ways to enable students to learn humanistic culture in their daily lives. In addition, it employs personal examples and environmental education to cultivate students’ characters. After completing their studies in the Center, the University’s students will appreciate humanistic culture more. So far, there has never been a textbook that can teach us this kind of humanitarianism.

Tzu Chi University does not intend to do anything differently from others; it just does what it should do. The University developed humanistic ceremonies, to express our gratitude to Silent Mentors and their families. To aid participants’ learning, Professor Guo-Fang Tseng pioneered a method, which allows a body to be preserved in a state closest to a living body. His endeavor gave birth to Tzu Chi University’s simulation surgery.

The simulation surgery class trains medical students to have more confidence in gaining their basic surgical skills. Furthermore, it provides the opportunity for experienced physicians to simulate advanced surgical skills, before performing surgery on their patients. More than twenty years ago, the public used to bury the deceased underground, yet Tzu Chi University started encouraging people to give of themselves, after passing, and named them “Silent Mentors”. The University is grateful to the public for trusting us. A total of 1,004 people have completed their altruistic giving, and more than 40,000 have signed the consent form for giving.

These stories are touching because they are true stories. These true stories might inspire us to carry out altruistic giving to make this world better and enable us to realize the true meaning of life. The author Wen-Ying Yeh is a member of Tzu Chi Culture and Communication Foundation. Her book entitled To Give with Altruism: Stories of Silent Mentors was published in 2011, and she decided to write a second book regarding Silent Mentors. This took her four years, and Wen-Ying would like to thank readers for enabling her to take time and enrich the book’s contents. Deep in her heart, she sees Silent Mentors, through their deaths, expressing their love and hope.

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