‘We are at a cusp point in medical generations’
Medical leaders — of today and tomorrow — inspired graduates at the 2011 commencement ceremonies. Here are excerpts of their remarks.
Harvard Medical School
Dean Jeffrey Flier
State of the School address
“One hallmark and legacy of my administration, I hope, will be the building of new and stronger bridges between academe and industry. Neither academe nor industry can do the job alone of moving basic science discoveries out of the lab, into trials and, ultimately, to patients everywhere. Key to realizing this vision will be collaborative, University-wide alliances, including Harvard Immunology, an umbrella organization that will capitalize on Harvard’s unrivaled expertise in this arena. The goal is to better understand disease pathogenesis, formulate immune-based assays to support human clinical trials, and improve diagnostics.”
“We are at a cusp point in medical generations. The doctors of former generations lament what medicine has become. If they could start over, the surveys tell us, they wouldn’t choose the profession today. They recall a simpler past without insurance company hassles, government regulations, malpractice litigation, not to mention nurses and doctors bearing tattoos and talking of wanting balance in their lives. These are not the cause of their unease, however. They are symptoms of a deeper condition—which is the reality that medicine’s complexity has exceeded our individual capabilities as doctors.”
Anjana Sharma, student address
“You’ve taught us signaling pathways, how to auscultate the heart, and how to discern the crucial difference between sick and not sick. You’ve taught us trickier, more undefined skills, like how to talk about death, or how to remain professional even when talking about taboo topics ranging from bowel movements to domestic violence. You’ve modeled for us the kind of doctors we want to become. Thank you for showing us how to touch a patient, both with hands and with words.”
Sawalla Guseh, student address
“Oh, the places you’ll go.
Oh, the patients you’ll see.
The conditions you’ll cure.
Oh, the doctors you’ll be.
Sure! There were MCATs and essays
Cups of coffee and tea
But it took so much more
To get your Harvard degree.
We learned a few things
that first and second year—
like how to talk to patients
and show people we care.
How to do a home visit
way out in nowhere!
How to gather a medical history
from the very first square.
What’s your chief complaint?
I ask and you share.
What’s that you say?
A hernia repair?
Does it itch? Does it burn?
Does it tingle down there?
That must be hard for you.
Are you feeling despair?
Do you need medical advice?
I better send you elsewhere,
because I’m a medical student;
I’ll be a doctor next year.”
Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Dean Bruce Donoff
Class Day address
“Communities based on merit and passions are rare, and people who have been part of them never forget them. … I believe you made a wonderful choice in entering a school that does not strive to produce a uniform product, but an exceptional one. Your class’s passion for viewing dental medicine as a public good, with a place in public health and global health, is memorable. You have been more involved substantively in community service and public health than any class before you.”
Keith Levesque, student address
“I imagined Harvard as it is portrayed in Hollywood: brilliant, snooty geniuses in tweed jackets bombarded by endless exotic medical questions from cold and hard-nosed professors. … But to my great amazement I discovered that Harvard, like many things in life, is actually quite different from the Hollywood storyline. At Harvard, we found a community of amazing people from all over the world, with depth and achievements far beyond the classroom. And instead of cold, hard-nosed professors—the ones who revel in student difficulty—we found them to be unbelievably supportive.”
Harvard School of Public Health
Dean Julio Frenk
“You wanted to devote yourselves to a cause—and to master some area that you believe will better equip you to improve the health of people in Boston or Los Angeles, in Albania or Jordan, Nigeria or Thailand. The process has demanded your all. But for us as your teachers, our goal is not only to help you master your chosen field, but also to help you become leaders who can use that mastery to make transformative improvements in the public’s health.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland, UN special envoy, commencement address
“At Harvard, I learned so much more about the links between humans and nature, our societies, cultures and our environment. … I learned to always look for the close and near as well as the far away, the small as well as the large, through a holistic lens. This holistic approach is public health at its best; it is preventive medicine at its core. It relates to our minds as well as to our bodies, to the links between us as humans, to the communities and the societies we create, to our surroundings and the environment in which we live. Today, it also relates to Planet Earth, as humanity faces fundamental challenges in our relationship with nature.”
Lakshmi Nayana Vootakuru, student address
“A few years ago I was a medical student in Australia, working with indigenous communities. One of these was a small community of about 200 people that I will never forget, plagued by a spate of suicides—several boys under the age of 18 over a few months. I pondered the circumstances that had allowed this horrific situation to materialize—poverty, substance abuse, historical injustice and community breakdown—all of which had meant that tragedy was far too regular a visitor. What made the situation even more devastating was the desperation that gripped this community as they worried not if, but when the next child would follow suit. At that moment, I understood what it was like to be held hostage by fear.”
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