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2014 Medical Commencement

May 19, 2015

  Dean Larsen at SOM 2015 Commencement
Despite the construction scaffolding that surrounded Glenn Memorial Auditorium, spirits were high the morning of Monday, May 11, as the School of Medicine Class of 2015 transformed from students to doctors, with all of the pride and responsibility that comes with that title.

Congratulations to our health professional graduates in the physical therapy, genetic counseling, and medical imaging programs, which also had their diploma ceremonies that morning. We had many dual-degree graduates who received PhD, MPH, and MS in Clinical Research degrees as well. (Anesthesiologist Assistant and Physician Assistant programs graduate their students in August and December, respectively.)

As Executive Vice President for Health Affairs Wright Caughman reminded us, there was a time when, as a medical student, you could be taught much of what was known in the field, or at least exposed to it. But the vast amount of modern medical knowledge makes continual learning a necessity for today's doctors. The fundamentals of respect and compassionate care, however, still apply.

"Just remember to still sit down and look the patient in the eye," Caughman told the graduates. "It's hard with the electronic medical record in front of you, but do it."

We welcomed Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health and former Emory professor of psychiatry and director of Emory's autism center and Yerkes, as our commencement speaker. He spoke of the "triple threat" of academic medicine—research, teaching, and clinical care—and how Emory has had a banner year on all counts, with Ebola, a Lasker award, and a continual priority placed on patient-centered teaching.

He noted that the cases most challenging yet rewarding to the new doctors will be those that fall in "Quadrant 4"—serious problems and illnesses with no ready cures or solutions. These include Alzheimer's disease, pancreatic cancer, and end-stage heart disease. "It is intensely uncomfortable to be in Quadrant 4," he said. "Its mantra is 'Do no harm.' "

When aggressive treatment won't work, he said, there is still much to be achieved by being honest and practical, focusing on palliative care if that is the right path. He quoted Atul Gawande in Being Mortal: "Death is the enemy. But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war that you cannot win, you don't want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation."

Hearty congratulations to Wendy Armstrong (associate professor, infectious diseases), the Papageorge Distinguished Faculty Award recipient; Gordon Churchward (professor, microbiology and immunology), the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award recipient; and Catherine Keefer (assistant director of medical education), the honorary class member. Comments about the recipients included "caring, sharp, genuine, and unassuming," "a dynamic educator," "a caring, wise physician," and "forms strong connections with students."

Shreya Rao 15M (bottom left, below), selected as class speaker by her peers, poignantly and humorously acknowledged the gifts that her fellow students had shared with her, and that their patients had shared with them: "Their stories and bodies are the textbooks from which we continue to learn."

Congratulations to all—our students, who now go off to practice the art and the science of medicine, and our faculty and staff, who gave them the mentorship, tools, and skills they needed to do so.

Best regards,


View more photos from the ceremony and reception that followed.

girl-grads   joel-felner
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