In her seat near the front of Junker Auditorium at Penn State College of Medicine, Ruth Miller chuckled.
Teams of her younger classmates were using CPR to revive two mannequins simulating cardiac arrest. The exercise was meant to show the importance of teamwork in a crisis.
“But how do you learn to think on your feet?” someone asked.
Ruth thought of a joke.
In her 81 years on the planet, among all the lessons about art, music and medicine she’s collected, Miller knows comic timing.
For 20 springs, Ruth has been coming to the College of Medicine Mini Medical School — the program in which faculty and full-time students share their knowledge with the community. She might move a little slower than when she was a 61-year-old freshman, but Ruth is just as engaged as ever and is, by now, an expert class clown.
How do you learn to think on your feet? “You stand up a lot,” Ruth said.
Including Ruth, nine area residents have been attending the program since it began in 1999, soaking up knowledge from top health care professionals about everything from hair loss to joint replacement to thyroid cancer.
Some members of the 20-year club are local high school teachers looking to add to their curricula. Others, like Ruth, have more personal reasons for attending.
“I love learning everything,” she said. In the 1960s, while a graduate student in music at the University of Michigan (“I can play every band instrument,” she said, then paused for effect. “Not all at once.”), both her parents’ health suffered steep declines. Miller decided to point her sponge-like brain toward medicine.
But not as a vocation. For something to do. Maybe the knowledge would come in handy, maybe it would be another knickknack on the shelf in her mind. “For relaxation from studying music,” she said, “I used to read all I could in medical books.”
Eventually she moved back to Hershey to take care of herself and her ailing parents. Somewhere along the way, her casual study of health care tailed off.
Then one day 20 years ago, Miller saw an ad for the Mini Medical School. “Oh boy, I’m there!” she thought.
Organized every year by the Continuing Education Office, Mini Medical School’s goal was always to help create a more informed pool of patients. Dozens of College of Medicine employees volunteer every year to share the vital role of their local university health center, said Bonnie Bixler, director of continuing education.
“High school students, senior citizens and everyone in between are hearing about the jewel they have right here in our community,” she said. “The world-class research going on, the nationally recognized clinical expertise — it’s all right here in our backyard. They may become aware of services we provide or research that they wouldn’t know about otherwise.”
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