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"Be teachable, ready to be molded after His will. Listen well. Be eager to have His calling stretch you to the limit."—Class of '52 
President's Report 2002
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• Pairing Study with Service
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Pairing Study with Service

When Joy Bonnema teaches immunology she shows students the door. Those who choose can step out of the white light of textbook and laboratory descriptions of immune system diseases and into the murky world on the other side, where those diseases are lived.

"After my first year teaching immunology I felt frustrated," says Bonnema. "Learning the nitty gritty of the immune system is fascinating, but I felt students weren't getting a true picture of the severity of immunological diseases. I yearned for them to encounter the human side."

The Service Learning Center stepped in to help and established a working relationship between Bonnema and the Grand Rapids chapters of the MS Society and the Lupus Foundation, and a local HIV support group. Now, instead of only writing a final paper on a disease, Bonnema's students can choose to know and serve someone who suffers with one of these diseases. A student who chooses this option attends the regular meetings of one of the support groups, gets to know at least one particular member and volunteers to help that person with any tasks the disease makes difficult: washing windows, getting groceries, driving to appointments.

The most important thing that students do, however, says Bonnema, isn't driving or doing; it's listening. Those living with diseases tell students what not to do when they become health care professionals. They tell them to listen to their patients, to really hear them."

Students also hear stories and see living models of resiliency, ingenuity and, often, strong faith. Bonnema asks them to reflect, in writing, on what they've seen and heard: on what they expected of a person with MS or Lupus or HIV and what they actually experienced; on the differences between textbook descriptions of medications and how the meds in fact affected the sufferers they met; and, most importantly, on what their encounters have meant for their faith.

 

Biology Professor Joy Bonnema
Biology Professor Joy Bonnema
 
Career-molding experience

For Mark Sytsma medical school began, in at least one real and important way, over strawberry malts at Denny's. That's where he would go with Greg Selzer, a retired navy serviceman in his early 40s suffering with MS. The two would talk—about what they enjoyed, about Selzer's ways of coping with his disease and about life's more difficult questions.

"To this day I think that has been one of the best experiences I have had in learning how unique each individual's needs are," says Sytsma, now a student at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "At medical school I still haven't done anything that's left that deep an impression on me. Some of Greg's comments about physicians, specifically about what not to do, will stick with me for a long time."

 

Mark Sytsma
Mark Sytsma
 
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