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“You are cordially invited to attend our annual reunion to be held in the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. The gala event will include dinner, entertainment, camaraderie, and an examination of your hernia repair.”

-- From an invitation to Shouldice Hospital's annual hernia patient reunion

Each year, a tight-knit group of patients from Shouldice Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, get together and...party.

They have dinner, entertainment, dancing. Maybe do some hula. It's a fun night. All of the party-goers have two things in common: all have had hernia surgeries, and all are patients of Shouldice.

Shouldice is not your ordinary hospital. It encourages patients to meet one another and build relationships. Its approach to hospitalization: it should be an experience—a happy and memorable one, not a frightening and forgettable one.

It all began in 1947 when several patients of Dr. Edward Earle Shouldice suggested he host a get-together for himself and his patients. They said it would renew friendships and help them stay in touch with the hospital.

Shouldice loved the idea; he saw it as the perfect opportunity to launch his idea for annual checkups and building research data.

The first party in 1948 drew 100 patients. Since then the hospital has sponsored annual reunions, with attendance topping 1,500 in the late 1980s. The reunion has since been pared back to just under 1,000. A committee of former patients helps the hospital plan the parties.

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Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba are the authors of Creating Customer Evangelists: How Loyal Customers Become a Volunteer Sales Force.