Today marks the 10-year anniversary of my medical school graduation at Carnegie Hall. I didn't get particularly good grades or any awards in medical school (due to a tendency to skip classes in order to read more). However, somehow I was elected by my classmates to speak at graduation.
Below is my speech. It is about why we resuscitate. As all resuscitationists know – whether physician, nurse, pharmacist, PA, or paramedic – this is hard work. We all could have chosen easier, safer paths to follow. Ten years down the track I have no regrets. I appreciate the great privilege of being here. Still, though, it's good to take a moment to remember how we got here, and why it is that we do what we do.
Hello friends and family, professors, confused symphanygoers, fellow doctors. It is with palpable relief that I welcome you to this final exercise of the class of 2006.
Classmates, I am honored by your election to speak today. It was, of course, a grave mistake. This is what happens when democracy is thrust upon people who aren’t ready for it, a group of people who are overworked, in massive debt, and used to autocracy. But it’s too late now. So let’s just go with it.
When I was assigned to talk today, I did what any Cornell-trained physician would do when preparing for a presentation. I googled it. I was terrified to see that graduation speeches are generally long, with big words and erudite quotes. I ought to know that already, having been subjected to a few of these affairs in the past, but I never paid attention. I was also tempted by one website selling graduation speeches. However, they were expensive and contained words I don’t know how to pronounce. So I bit the bullet and wrote this speech. Of course, I don’t know many long words or erudite quotes, so I’ll be making them up as we go along.
Unfortunately, Dean Gillers insisted that I impart some words of wisdom to you today. First I would like to gain a little perspective on this day, and then, if you’re still awake, I’ll tell you the secret to lifelong success as a physician.
On this graduation day, let us take a moment to consider how far we have come, and where we have yet to go. For years we have been concerned primarily with survival, day-to-day and hour-to-hour. How many days are left before the anatomy exam? How many hours until my call is over? How many sutures left until this operation is over? As we navigated the unwritten terrain of medical education, we carefully watched our feet lest we stumble. Now, after years of considering each foothold, it is time to look up and see where our feet have led us. Today we stand upon a breathtaking mountain, a pinnacle of achievement. Looking back down this mountain, we should appreciate the difficult terrain that we have covered. The quicksand of the MCATs, the jungle of the board exams, and the desert of OBGYN. Honestly, I don’t think I could do it again. It has been an incredible journey, complete with joy and pain, terror and delight, death and birth.
From our vantage point, we can also catch a glimpse of what lies in our futures. As exhilarating as this height may be, I see even higher, more challenging mountains in our futures, some of their peaks shrouded by clouds. Our journey has barely begun. Soon, we will be climbing those slopes, again watching our feet. But now, as we pause on this summit, let us squint and imagine what may lie at the peaks of those distant mountains. I see great things. I see flawless deliveries, deft surgeries, compassionate therapists, groundbreaking research, and so much more. It is there for the taking, and we are seasoned climbers.
For those of you who are still awake, I promised the secret to lifelong success as a physician. I apologize in advance for being pedantic, but given the size of this soapbox it’s irresistible. We will be entering our profession at a time when American medicine is in turmoil. Already, we have begun to feel many pressures pulling at us: time pressures, financial pressures, academic pressures. In this cacophony of demands placed on us, how can we find our way? I would suggest that we should make patient care our first priority, and follow it wherever it may lead us. It is this siren’s song which lured us to medical school in the first place, and I believe that it can be our salvation. It is a quiet song, easily lost in the bustle of modern medicine, but if you strain hard you can hear it in the soft ways families nurse their ill, or in the way dedicated physicians hover over patients on the brink. I believe that to pursue success or prestige directly is a fool’s errand, but rather, if we can fully dedicate ourselves to our patients the rest will come naturally. Find a group of patients that you care deeply about, whether they be infants or elderly, AIDS patients or abused children, and do whatever you can to help them, whether that may require clinical medicine or research. It is only through this most humble service that physicians can achieve greatness. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
As accomplished as the Class of 2006 is, there is another group which is even more deserving of recognition today. It is not our teachers, who tolerated our ignorance, or even our patients, who tolerated our clumsy attempts to help them. In the words of the great physician Maimonidies, “for every young doctor, there is a parent kicking him or her in the tush.” The road which took us to Carnegie Hall today required more than just practice, it required the tenacious support of our friends and family. Let’s put our hands together for those who helped us retain what little sanity we have left.
Finally, to increase the average syllable count in this speech, I would like to wish you all a supercalifradulisticexpialidocious graduation. We made it!
An Audio-Only Version with Cleaned-Up Sound