Schulich school of Medicine and Dentistry logo YouME Blog Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

Gifts and Gratitude by Dr. Gary Tithecott

Hand crafted sweetgrass basket

Gifts are wonderful opportunities for reflection. After all, the main thing one should do on receiving a gift is to be grateful for it. This past week, I was privileged to receive two separate gifts that were meaningful to me. Two opportunities for gratitude. Let me explain.

Why do we give gifts? Some say it “allows people to connect.”2 Gifting is citied as improving states of mind, establishing social connections and heightening the mood of the gifter and receiver through neuroendocrine pathways.2

Last week, I was invited to the First Nations Conference for Children with Special Needs, hosted by Walpole Island First Nation. Many First Nation families from across Southwestern Ontario attended. Both Matt Wannan, our UME Manager, and I noted the energy and engagement of all who were present.  

In my session, I hoped to leave each attendee with one thought or piece of knowledge to help them support their child or themselves as caregivers. In attending to children with special needs, I emphasized the two keys are a supportive family and community.

My message was that such support, along with access to appropriate evidence-based knowledge, are difference makers in success managing and living with health care challenges.  

As I talked I realized that my message had little specific reference to the competency Medical Expert, but rather emphasized other key competencies of being a physician – Collaborator, Communicator, Professional, Advocate.  

After my talk I heard that the audience, although quiet and engaged, heard my message very clearly. The people at this conference taught me a lesson – that a powerful community with strong values provides resiliency.

I am often asked by students how to be successful in their careers as future physicians. I stand by the view that the gift of knowledge that others impart to you (no matter how large or small) and the sharing of one’s self with others are key.  So when we as physicians are invited to share very personal times and events with families and communities we need to be grateful and thankful.  

Such opportunities are gifts that cannot really be measured.

After my session at the regional conference, I was taken aback at receiving a unique hand crafted sweetgrass basket and earrings (for my wife) from artists at Walpole Island First Nation. The sweetgrass represents a sacred part of their heritage and demonstrates ‘great power.’1

The conference host pointed out to me the richness of the artistry with the stitching and the prominent turtle on the lid – to symbolize their identity as a nation. So this is a gift that resonated and meant much to me.

On Saturday, the Medicine Class of 2016 invited me and my wife to their graduation formal with a handful of other faculty members. To share in the festivities and joy of so many smiling graduates and their partners was another gift for which I am very grateful.  

Being at their formal, looking on, mingling, talking to graduates and their partners, reminded me of my clinical role in paediatrics. It was also an opportunity to acknowledge the role that our School plays in shaping the future of medical care in our region and Canada. This was very evident in seeing the smiling faces that radiated the early career success our medical school has provided to so many new promising physicians.

So to the Medicine Class of 2016, as your time at our School comes to a close, I say thank you for your involvement in our school and community. And remember the sweetgrass basket that will be prominently displayed in my Western office. For me, the basket is a symbol of achieving personal empowerment through sharing and community. When we work with others, we receive the gift of being allowed to share a special moment or event of a person, family or community and we share in the hope of making a difference.  

That gift must be cherished and shared with those whom you serve. If you do so, you will gain personal growth and support beyond measurement in guiding you towards success in your professional career.


Dr. Gary Tithecott

My thanks to Professor Peter Flanagan for his editorial support.


1. Native American Technology and Art.
2. The New York Times (2007). A gift that gives back? The giving itself.