In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

March 2, 2017

After Portraying a Dying Patient, Actor Discovers New Role

By In the Loop

Megan Cole was enjoying success as an actor in regional theaters and in TV guest roles when a performance changed the direction of her life, leading her bring the lessons of literature to doctors, nurses and other health care providers.

Megan Cole has played many roles in her acting career, from Shakespearean queens to Elaine's colleague, Peggy, on "Seinfeld." (Talk about range.) But the role that has had the biggest impact on her career — and on her life — is that of Dr. Vivian Bearing, the terminally ill English professor at the center of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Wit." Cole originated the role in California in 1995.

After the first production she had many people tell her the play helped them grieve the loss of family members, Cole says. Conversations like those continued when she reprised the role at theaters in Seattle, Washington, and Houston, Texas. "I realized what an important piece this was, socially and culturally," Cole tells us.

And that got her thinking. "What can I do," she wondered, "to continue to convey the profound message of this play?" The answer, initially, was "The Wisdom of Wit," a "dramatized lecture" during which Cole interprets "the play's perspectives on important end-of-life issues." That launched a broader series of lectures and workshops on communication and empathy that she's shared at health care organizations around the country, including Mayo Clinic.

"It is a tremendous honor to come to Mayo," Cole tells us. "I'm thrilled every time I get a call to come."

She's answered that "call" several times since 2006. And in addition to presenting lectures and workshops, she's also used her gifts as an actor to help bring Mayo Clinic history to life. In 2009, she portrayed Mother Alfred Moes in "A Leap of Faith: The Founding of Saint Mary Hospital." In 2016 she developed a one-person performance, portraying several women from the earliest years of Mayo Clinic, in "Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation," based on the book of the same name by Virginia Wright-Peterson, Ph.D.

This year, she plays the title role in "Maud Mellish Wilson: A Singular Voice," a film about the pioneering woman who established the Mayo Clinic Library and founded Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The film will premiere on Tuesday, March 7, and run throughout the month as part of Mayo's Women's History Month activities.

And if you're in Rochester on March 8, you can see Cole perform live when she presents "The Faraway Nearby: Life-and-Death Choices through the Patient's Lens." The piece, an adaptation of a short story written by a nurse, is told from the perspective of a ventilator-dependent patient. "This story gives voice to those who don't have a voice," Cole says. And telling that story, as well as those of other patients, has given Cole a new perspective on what she can accomplish as an actor. "I have a specific sense I'm doing something meaningful with my life that makes a difference to other people," she tells us. "Each time I present it reminds me of what is important in our lives."

"The Faraway Nearby: Life-and-Death Choices through the Patient's Lens" will be presented at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8, in Geffen Auditorium in the Gonda Building. The event is free, but you must RSVP to

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Tags: Center for Humanities in Medicine, Employee Stories, Maud Mellish, Mayo Clinic Library, Mayo Clinic Proceedings

Where can we see the library lady video?

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