The Evolution of Dr. Othersen's Bee Hive Sessions

Dr. Othersen's Bee Hive Sessions

Countless trainees have benefited from his wise advice over the past fifty years.

For more than fifty years, H. Biemann Othersen Jr., M.D. has been recognized as one of the most respected and loved physicians in South Carolina. A native of Charleston, Dr. Othersen earned his medical degree from the Medical College of South Carolina in 1953 and spent the next 12 years pursuing his post-graduate surgical training at Philadelphia General Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania, the Medical College of South Carolina, the Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and Massachusetts General Hospital. During this time, he also served two years in the U.S. Navy.

When he began his pediatric fellowship program in 1962 at the Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio,  his wife, Janelle, who was a nurse on the pediatric ward, noticed many children could not pronounce his last name. She suggested he introduce himself as Dr. Bee (shortened for Biemann) and created a colorful emblem of a bee for his white coat. They found the emblem along with Dr. Othersen’s warm and friendly mannerism helped set the children at ease and aided in effective communications with their families.

In 1965, Dr. Othersen joined the faculty of the Medical University of South Carolina to serve as an assistant professor of surgery and as the university's first chief of pediatric surgery. At the time, he was the first pediatric surgeon in South Carolina and one of the first in the entire Southeast. One of his roles at MUSC was to run the medical orientation program, where he included information on the value of effective communications – and more importantly – the value of listening. From 1962 – 2005, the seed for a resident-training session to aid in communications with children and their families was planted and took roots. 

By 2005, Dr. Othersen started running thought-provoking weekly sessions to discuss journal articles with residents on their pediatric surgery rotation. The articles focused on effective communications for medical providers. These sessions were affectionately dubbed the Bee Hive Sessions. “Most communications is non-verbal,” said Othersen. “In these sessions we talk about three important things to do when entering a hospital room: introduce yourself with a smile, wash your hands, and sit down to meet the patient at their eye level. The sitting part is so important. To the patient, you are telling them that the time you have right now is exclusively theirs. You are more present.”

Othersen, who was 75 at the time, had partners in their 40’s and was educating young residents. He realized generational differences led to different learning styles and many residents preferred on line learning. A website was built to host the articles and provide for shared resources, which is still used to this day.

Countless residents have benefited from Dr. Othersen’s Bee Hive Sessions. Surgical alumna Vivian Jolley Bea, M.D., Section Chief of Breast Surgical Oncology at Weill – Cornell Medicine, said “During my fellowship in breast surgical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, I quickly realized the first few years of surgical education is so important. One of the lessons I learned very early on was from Dr. Othersen's Bee Hive Session. He would ask us "When you go into a patient’s room, what do you do?" He would then instruct us: "You introduce yourself, you wash your hands, and you sit and listen to your patient."

"This simple act that Dr. Othersen teaches during his Bee Hive Sessions instills compassion in his trainees," comments Bea. "It is the foundation of the excellent patient care was recognized for during my fellowship, and continues with me every day in my surgical practice."

The Bee Hive Sessions have become so well known throughout the academic surgical community for their value in resident education that Dr. Othersen presented on the evolution of the Bee Hive Session during the 2021 Halsted Society Meeting. Now fully retired from academic medicine, the nonagenarian added a slide to his presentation: Dr. Bee’s Retirement Rules: Bee Prepared, Bee Kind, Bee Busy, Bee Active, Bee Appreciative and Bee Happy.

In the end, he says it’s the little things that count.

In addition to his weekly Bee Hive Sessions, Dr. Othersen continues to serve as Chairman of the Curtis P. Artz MUSC Surgical Society.