After a medical school experience mostly shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Class of 2023 graduates from the University of Colorado School of Medicine are ready to take the next step into their profession.
“We obviously all suffered tremendous loss during the pandemic, and I do not intend to trivialize any of those losses. Rather I want to celebrate the Class of 2023 for serving as role models and leaders during those difficult times,” Brian Dwinnell, MD, associate dean of student life, said at Monday’s Hooding & Oath Ceremony for the Class of 2023.
The class began medical school in summer 2019, prior to the beginning of the pandemic, and while students concluded classes as many restrictions were rolled back, the effects of the public health crisis will continue to impact their medical careers in new ways.
"There have been profound changes over the course of my career, but they are going to pale in comparison to what's going to happen over the course of your career,” said Dean John J. Reilly Jr., MD. “I hope you all will be the voice to make sure those changes are positive ones. As a result, we will have a better and healthier society at the end of your careers than we do now.”
Medicine is a team sport
Ceremony guest speaker Jeffrey Druck, MD, vice chair for faculty advancement, DEI, and well-being at the University of Utah School of Medicine and former assistant dean of student affairs at the CU School of Medicine, praised graduates for joining medicine at such a pivotal time in history.
“You will be the difference in the lives of your patients and their families, and you will earn their trust and respect. You are a part of a community that's essence is to heal,” he said. “You'll grow with our community because of your shared values and common purpose. You will find deep meaning and affirmation in that connection, and perhaps most importantly, you will recognize the privilege of being present with people in their most vulnerable moments, bearing witness to their humanity and their power. You will be the source of comfort, support, and the one who affirmed their life is valued and precious. So yes, being a doctor is hard. It's also an incredible honor and privilege.”
Druck left graduates with four pieces of advice: Treat medicine as a team sport, trust but verify information, reflect on feedback, and show gratitude.
“We as physicians like to think that we save lives on a daily basis. We also like to think that we are the most important, most educated, and most skilled members of the team. However, the environmental services team members likely save more lives than we do by preventing infection day in day out,” Druck said. “And although we trained to be leaders and have final decision-making capability, we have to act as servant leaders. As Booker T. Washington said, ‘if you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.’”
He also highlighted the importance of practicing gratitude, starting with a request that the graduates turn to one another and thank each other for their contributions and their journey.
"Gratitude is pausing to notice and appreciate the things we take for granted. It's a feeling of appreciation for others' acts of kindness. Gratitude also encompasses the readiness to show appreciation for those kindnesses and return them at every opportunity available,” Druck said. “When we intentionally practice gratitude, it can also help us relish our experiences, really immerse ourselves in them, and be a part of the collective goodness in this profession and in the world."
Big days ahead
The Class of 2023 marks the final class completing the school’s legacy curriculum, which Dwinnell said could have prompted frustration from students. Instead, they rose to the occasion.
“The Class of 2023 embraced their role in the school, serving on countless curriculum reform committees, shepherding underclassmen through new territory, and serving as shining examples of what medical professionals are meant to be,” he said. “They volunteered so much of their time knowing that their efforts would not impact their education, but rather the experiences for future CU School of Medicine students.”
Even with a new curriculum on the horizon, the new graduates received a world-renowned education.
“Trust me, they are well prepared, but they too recognized that society is changing fast, and we needed to adapt to the new landscape,” Dwinnell said of the new graduates. “The Class of 2023 has endured a tumultuous time in our history with incredible political, social, public health, and global unrest and always stood for what is right. They demonstrated that empathy for one another is a critical characteristic of our profession. They managed to maintain a strong sense of community despite the incredible barriers laid before them.”
That sentiment of compassion in a changing world was echoed by the students, too.
"Friends, you graduate today not only with dexterous hands, but with an informed voice that must be raised as loud as you can make it on behalf of those that need you. It is time for us to decide what we are about. Our days as ambitious undergraduates are long gone,” said class speaker Evan Cornish, MD. “We are servants of our communities now, nothing more and nothing less. It is because of that that you must speak with the authority that you have earned at the level of a single patient's care and at the level of community health."
Cornish said he and his fellow graduates prove that there is hope for the future of medicine and for democracy in a world where facts are often up for debate and the enemies of public health are strong and capable.
“Keep your hearts on fire, and your brains on ice,” he said in his address.
The pandemic also intensified students’ bonds and reliance on each other.
“Perhaps most importantly, we’ve seen our classmates rally together and support each other in times of need,” said Class of 2023 Co-President Brenda La. “We adapted to a rapidly changing education system during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to persevere and evolve while still providing excellent care for our patients.”
An oath for the future
George A. "Doc" Lopez, MD, honorary doctor of humane letters, gave the alumni address, reminding graduates that upon exiting the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, they might make a difference for their mentors.
"Whether you choose to practice medicine, pursue research, or start a business, you have the power to make a difference in the lives of others. I know this to be true because I have faced challenges in my life even before I had a Parkinson's diagnosis,” Lopez said. “Despite these difficulties, I have been able to achieve a great many things and each of you has the potential to do the same. So, as you leave this institution and embark on the next chapter of your life, I urge you to remember that you have the power to create positive change in this world. And who knows, maybe one of you will be the one that cures Parkinson's!"
Graduates, who will continue to residency programs around the country, concluded Monday’s ceremony by reciting the Colorado Physician’s Oath.
“I commit myself to the profession of medicine, to the advancement of scientific knowledge, and to the education and mentorship of those who follow me,” the oath reads in part. “I will respect the rights of my patients and colleagues and shall safeguard those confidences placed in me.”