Musings on a Graduation

22 08 2013

While it was almost three months ago, I am going to share my experience with the medical school graduation with you.  As some of you remember—and most of you probably don’t—I am not taking the traditional path through medical school, having detoured during this past academic year to earn my Master of Public Health degree before diving back into medical school full-time as an “official” 4th year student this month.  Because of this, I had the opportunity to participate in the graduating ceremony for the graduating class of 2013.

As proud of, and excited for, my classmates as I was (and still am), the experience was a truly bittersweet one.  I watched each of my peers—the ones I stood next to at my white coat ceremony in July of 2009, those I studied with, partied with, swapped patient stories with, and ultimately learned to be a physician with—walk across the stage, crouch a bit as a faculty member placed a hood over their heads and across their shoulders, and sign their names for the first time with the letters M.D. at the end.  They became physicians.

The first time I felt separated from the rest of my matriculating class was on Match Day, when everyone found out after a long year of applications, tedious interviews, and hair-twisting decisions where they would be going for residency.  That was different.  Then, I still got to celebrate with them and the following day we were all still 4th year medical students (as a side note, and this might seem petty to you, but I refused to call myself a 3rd-year just because I had a full year remaining.  I finished my 3rd year requirements and that was that, no looking back).

Graduation was different.  At the beginning of the ceremony, they were 4th year students.  Leaving the stage, they were doctors.  I’m not sure why, but it seemed like the distinction was very sudden and immense.

The speaker at the ceremony was phenomenal to the point where if the speaker at my own graduation is terrible, I plan on pretending that this was my “real” graduation speech.  I wish I could just copy and paste it here, but that could undermine the anonymity of this blog (sidenote: if those of you who actually know me are interested, let me know and I can e-mail you).

The speaker talked about a number of things, but the central speaking point was this: Don’t ever forget who you are right now, a person with some idealism still living inside, who wants to make a difference one patient at a time, who went into medicine to give other people the gift of better health.  It won’t be easy, and we will forget sometimes.  We’ll forget when it’s the end of a 24-hour shift and we haven’t eaten or sat down; or when a patient is intentionally irate, demeaning, and abrasive despite the hours we’ve put into his or her care; or when we have to miss another full night’s sleep, holiday dinner, kid’s soccer game, or date because a case came in that we have to take care of.  When we forget, instead of guarding ourselves with cynicism, we should remember who we were on the day we graduated from medical school and return to that place rather than pulling on the armor of cynicism.

This is true on so many levels, and what’s interesting is the parallel between these words of the graduation speaker and the words of the physicians who speak on the day of convocation when the first-year students receive their white coats and recite the Hippocratic Oath for the first time in front of their friends, family, and colleagues.  On that day, we were told to hang onto our altruistic spirits and our enthusiasm for all of the great things that a career in medicine has to offer.  We were told to remember that, one day, we would have to look into our rearview mirrors and see what we made of our medical school experiences, because it is such a unique time.   We were told to make the most of it, but not to lose our spirits.  The repetition is important, and it is important because the truth of modern medicine is that training to be a physician, and actually practicing as one, requires a tremendous amount of sacrifice that might not always seem worth it.

Remembering who we were upon graduating from medical school may help to deter the cynicism and burnout plaguing so many American physicians today.  If that can help to make every sacrifice worth it, it’s worth a try.

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One response

23 08 2013
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Applaud!!! I don’t know at this point if I will attempt to get in but if I do, I hope I emulate you through the 4 years that are med school… awesome!

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