Tzu Chi University’s Silent Mentor Program Passes on Skills and Knowledge and Transmits Humanistic Culture

The human body’s structure is very complex. In surgery, a minor mistake may cause severe consequences or even sequelae. In October 2022, the University worked with various professional associations, such as the Taiwan Rhinology Society, Taiwan Society for Vascular Surgery, Taiwan Society of Plastic Surgery, and Taiwan Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, to sponsor a surgical simulation training program. Two hundred forty-two physicians from 35 domestic healthcare institutions and two from Japan and Germany attended.

The opening ceremony was on October 21, 2022. Chi-Ming Pu, secretary general of the Taiwan Society of Plastic Surgery, conveyed his opening remarks: “Young surgeons must gain firsthand experience, and they can learn without pressure from these Silent Mentors (body donors). We are grateful that Tzu Chi University provides this program, which helps pass on medical skills and knowledge from experienced surgeons to young ones. 

There were eight Silent Mentors: Ping-Shan Ku, Te-Lu Ho, Shih-Wu Hu, Shu-Chen Chang Yen, Shu-Chen Tseng, Hsiu-Chin Hsiao Hung, Yu-Ying Huang, and Tsai-Luan Li Wu. Program participants started by visiting the families of their Silent Mentors and joined in each activity to learn more about what these donors did in their lifetimes, and why they decided to leave a legacy of love for medical education. Through the program, the Silent Mentors inspired many young surgeons to have a deeper understanding of the physician’s mission. 

Professor Werner Lang, director of the Vascular Surgery Department of the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg Hospital, Germany, joined the program. He said that he had taken part in many anatomy-related programs worldwide for thirty years as a physician, and this program was quite remarkable. To him, it was not an anatomy program; instead, it was a Silent Mentor Program. Professor Lang was deeply touched by the participants’ respect during the entire program. He said, “I am very grateful to participate in this program. I also noticed that everyone learned vigorously under such a humanistic ambiance.” 

The advancement of medical equipment is fast-moving, and young surgeons have fewer opportunities to learn traditional surgery in the hospital. Nai-Wei Huang, attending physician of the Cardiovascular Surgery Department of Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, shared that traditional surgery seems to only exist in textbooks, but some cases still require traditional surgery, nevertheless. He was happy to attend the program and learn from his Silent Mentor, who helped him to perform conventional surgery. Dr. Huang is ready, whenever there is any need for traditional surgery. 

“Thank you for your selfless dedication and for enabling us to learn how to care for our patients and support their families.” Shu-Xuan Wu, a resident physician at the Otorhinolaryngology Department of Taipei Tzu Chi Hospital, shared that her Silent Mentor was Shu-Chen Tseng, who had nasopharyngeal cancer. Besides this, Shu-Chen’s nasal bone structure was very different from ordinary people’s, which was a very rare experience for ophthalmologists. Shu-Xuan learned much from her Silent Mentor and saw her as a family member. Today, Shu-Xuan felt sad to see her off.

Shu-Chen Tseng suffered hearing loss in both ears, due to the treatment of her nasopharyngeal cancer. She watched Da Ai TV on the recommendation of her daughter Ya-Li Chen, so she came to know about the Silent Mentor Program and decided to become a Silent Mentor. Ta-Li recalled, “When I knew that physicians or students would work on my mother’s body, I didn’t agree with my mother’s decision.” But Shu-Chen was very determined. She asked her family to send her to Tzu Chi University after her passing and wrote it in her diary, when she received consent from Tzu Chi University regarding her body donation. Amazingly, Shu-Chen’s eldest daughter, son-in-law, and second daughter followed in her footsteps and signed up to become Silent Mentors. 

Due to Shu-Chen Tseng’s hearing loss, she received much unfair treatment in the outside world. Shu-Chen often encouraged herself to be open-minded with a Jing Si Aphorism “Forgiving others is to be kind to ourselves.” Family members could not locate Chu-Chen’s favorite Jing Si Aphorism at home, so Kun-Yi Ho, the University’s Chief Secretary, wrote on a bookmark, put it into the coffin, and wrote another on a couplet for the family to take home.

Everyone at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital called Shu-Chen Chang Yen “Auntie Flower Arrangement.” For decades, she traveled from Taipei to Hualien every Tuesday to provide flower arrangements in the hospital’s main hall. Her son Cheng-Der Chang said that his mother wished to make offerings to the Buddhas, convey beauty and kindness, and spread Tzu Chi’s humanistic culture through her flower arrangements. He thanked Tzu Chi for expressing appreciation and encouragement to his mother, so that she could fulfill her wishes here.

Some Silent Mentors kept communicating with their families to obtain their consent, and some worked hard to meet the donation requirements. One day, Yu-Ying Huang’s weight dropped to 29 kg, due to her illness. She made efforts to enhance her physical well-being and finally went up to 41 kg, which met the weight requirement. Her daughter, Rui-Ling Chou, said that her mother taught them to do good deeds and the right things. She was grateful to everyone in Tzu Chi for helping her mother. On this day it was also Rui Ling’s birthday. She said, “I am thrilled my mother is celebrating my birthday with me.” 

President Ingrid Liu pointed out: “We must reflect on life’s lessons and the meaning of life taught by our Silent Mentors. We are grateful for the endeavors of teaching physicians and young physicians. We will never fall short of the expectations of our Silent Mentors.” President Liu also presented a commemorative plaque to each family to convey our gratitude to the family members for helping fulfill the wish of their Silent Mentor.

Most of the participants in the four-day program were young physicians. These young physicians are like seeds sown on the ground; one day, they will grow into big trees and bear fruits. Dharma Master De-Yu from Jing Si Abode said, “Our attitude determines our latitude.” These Silent Mentors had a firm direction and exercised their compassion and wisdom to love others and themselves, during their lifetimes and after passing. Through this program, physicians enhanced their skills, knowledge, and altruism through their Silent Mentors’ assistance, and will apply what they have learned to serve their patients and families, and spread the Silent Mentors’ love around.