Cox Auditorium was filled Wednesday with attendees for the fourth annual Anne Mayhew Distinguished Honors Lecture Series, sponsored by the Chancellor's Honors Program.
Best-selling author, physician and professor of medicine at Stanford University – Abraham Verghese – spoke on "The Search for Meaning in a Medical Life" for this year's talk.
Verghese attended medical school in Ethiopia and India before moving to the U.S. to be a medical resident at ETSU in the '80s.
Verghese was working at the Boston City Hospital when the AIDS epidemic struck the country. After moving back to ETSU to be an assistant professor of medicine, Verghese became the first doctor to permit AIDS-infected patients into hospitals in Tennessee.
"There's something about caring for these people," Verghese said, "that forces you to confront the meaning of your own life."
Verghese said when he began dealing with AIDS cases, so little was known about the disease that there were very few things that doctors could do for infected patients. He predominantly treated young men.
Verghese spoke of how elderly people often reflect on their lives in search of the meaning in it, and was stricken by how his young patients were being faced with this task much sooner.
"I liked the challenge that he made," said Bryson Lype, freshman in political science, "That you've got to make the right use of your time."
In an age where computers are a major part of hospitals, Verghese said he makes a point to see his patients as real people and to personalize their medical care.
"The best way to understand a hospitalized patient is by going to see that patient," Verghese said.
Verghese, who has also attended the Iowa Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, has written several books including "The Cutting Stone" and "My Own Country." He said his writing makes it possible to empathize with his patients and to imagine their experiences while suffering from AIDS.
Vergese's overarching advice to the audience was not to inspire attendees to accomplish as much as possible, but instead to value the amount of time that is given to spend on this earth.
"It's not like were just checking things off of a list because we're never going to finish that list," Lype said. "You've got to find the meaning along the way."
Verghese has been a professor of medicine at Stanford University since 2007.