The University of Texas Medical School at Houston The University of Texas Medical School at Houston
December 19, 2008 | from the Office of Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo

Distributed on Fridays via e-mail to all Medical School employees, students, residents, and postdoctoral fellows, UT 2 Me is Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo's weekly update of news and items of interest. He also welcomes feedback through this two-way communication.

In this season of giving, I would like to share a special story with you as written by Dr. Joanne Oakes, assistant professor of emergency medicine, about a pep talk she recently had with our first-year students:

The class was upset about its performance on the combined block I and block II exams, which were combined after Hurricane Ike disrupted the original block I test schedule in September. Many students had not realized inefficiencies in their study habits due to the lack of formal exams, and many were discouraged that they did not perform nearly as well as they had hoped. The amount of material was large, and the detail was difficult. The students asked several of us faculty for first-year courses for a pep talk.

In the pep talk, I talked to the students of symbols of sacrifice and our duty to serve, how medical school is a marathon and not a sprint. I told them how Ike would soon be a remote memory, one we might laugh at with next year's retreat. And then I told them the story of the little red car.

My father is a semi-retired physician. He is a bit gruff but is a big softie. He had secretly saved my brothers' matchbox race cars, over 180, for over 30 years until he had grandchildren. He bought a beach home on Bolivar several years ago, and it was his greatest joy that every grandchild was thrilled to play with Granddad's cars and trucks. After Ike, nothing remained of his home. On the several trips back to Bolivar to meet insurance adjustors, he found a few plates, a few knives and forks, but nothing really to speak of. For losing everything at age 74, he has maintained a remarkable sense of clarity and peace and purpose. On his final trip out to Bolivar, with nothing left on his land but sand, he found a small treasure -- one little red matchbox car. It was scratched and dented and had no windows, but it still had four tires and still roared along a table, perfect to bring joy to a grandchild and still, in essence, a little red race car. My father gave me the car, asking me to share it with his grandchildren as the last survivor after Ike. I brought it to the pep talk.

I told the students that they now are little red race cars. They have been scratched and dented with bumps from a few plans life had for them, but they are still essentially the fantastic human beings accepted to our medical school to care for people and be the best physicians we can make them. They are still little red race cars, now with their own story of survival to tell as they continue in this marathon of their education. The pep talk went well, the students felt better, and I was glad to be of help.

On our last lecture of the semester, at the end of class, each student came down to the front to give me a little matchbox car, many with notes and cards, to give to my Dad. The tin holds more than 200. Many of us cried tears of happiness and surprise. Many students hugged me and each other. This was a very special moment.

It was a big surprise on Thanksgiving Day for my Dad when I gave him the cars from the Class of 2012. He shed happy tears, was very sentimental and speechless for a long time. He was overwhelmed by the class' generosity and thoughtfulness (he had met them when he gave a cardiac history for the class in September prior to Ike). He is very excited to find a new home back on the Galveston beach somewhere to have all his grandchildren down again -- this gift gave him a renewed sense that everything will be fine despite all the problems Ike brought.

Not only are our students little red cars, they are the best little red race cars one might imagine.

It has been my honor to teach them this semester, and I look forward to watching these wonderful young men and women progress through their time here. I hoped to share with you what makes them so special to us first-year course directors, especially to me and now to my father.

I hope that you will remember this inspiring story when you think about the special environment we have here at the UT Medical School. If you have a story that exemplifies this UT spirit, please send it to me. I’d love to hear it and share it.

In closing, I’ve asked Dr. Henry Strobel, associate dean for faculty affairs, to pen some words about the season:

A central theme and image for this period of the year is light. We light candles in our homes for light and to symbolize the increasing light and love of our celebrations. We enjoy the light of the candles yet we also are bringers of light to others in all of our relationships and interactions. It is a good thing to lighten another’s path at this time and at all times of the year. Let us share the light and warmth and love we feel with others whether colleagues, patients, or the stranger in haste.

Have a great weekend and wonderful holiday,


For archives of this newsletter, visit the Dean's Communications homepage.