When the graduating MD and PhD students, their families and friends, gathered Thursday afternoon at Boston University’s Track and Tennis Center, it marked the first in-person BUSM convocation ceremony since 2019. While it was a time for celebration and happy tears, it proved to be a perfect opportunity to reflect on the lessons learned from pursuing a lifelong dream while living through a global pandemic.
“Today you are graduating at perhaps the most medically challenging time in the last century,” said BUMC Provost and BUSM Dean Karen Antman, MD, noting the human toll of a pandemic that tested health-care systems and personnel, as well as other escalating world crises.
“We hope that you will be the leaders in solving these problems,” she said.
BUSM presented 164 medical degrees to the Class of 2022, including 10 combined degrees with five MD/PhDs, one MD/MPH and four MD/MBAs. Graduates ranking at the top of their class included 16 cum laude, six magna cum laude and two summa cum laude, William Palmer and Brando Salussolia.
Seventeen PhD candidates received the Doctor of Philosophy in their respective specialties.
In an especially poignant moment, BU President Emeritus Aram Chobanian, MD, hooded his granddaughter Vanessa Torrice, as she became a newly minted Doctor of Medicine.
“It was a very moving experience for me,” said Chobanian. “I never thought I would make it to the day when a granddaughter actually became a physician.”
MD student speaker Tiffany Chan told her classmates that the medical school experience she imagined was different from the one she experienced.
“I expected to be moved by raw emotions from real patients,” said Chan, who received her MD and will become psychiatry resident at NYU. Instead of conferring with patients in group therapy, she read patient vignettes in lectures and on exams. Instead of changing patients’ lives, she found herself struggling to say the right thing, or stumbling over simple tasks in clinical rotation.
But Chan said her experience accrued in unexpected ways: the satisfaction of communicating medical science to a patient; discovering a benign heart murmur in a two-month-old baby; realizing the therapeutic value of psychiatric commitment for a drug-addicted homeless patient; the blood smear under a microscope that revealed iron deficiency anemia; and the poignancy of a dementia patient who couldn’t recall his wife’s given name but called her by a nickname known only to each other.
Chan said she learned to accept the moments of powerlessness that came with the job. There’s a fine line, she said, between wanting to help patients and making the saving of patients, or the inability to do so, a personal quest.
“Being a doctor was supposed to be about being a hero, but instead it’s about being a supportive role in the patient’s story,” Chan said. “Our proudest moment as doctors won’t be something we do…but will be the day our patients no longer need us and can be on their own again.”
“The post-pandemic world that we all long for is starting to take form,” observed Jeffrey Kuniholm, the PhD student speaker who received his degree in microbiology with a focus on immunology and infectious diseases. He believed more than knowledge was needed in this changed world.
“Over the past two years, we have seen that just being smart, or even being right, is not always enough to create positive change in the world. Hard science and facts are not always enough to change people’s minds. Being effective science communicators matters more now than ever before,” said Kuniholm. “The worth of (our) education will be measured by our actions, and in our words.”
Convocation speaker Nahid Bhadelia, MD, founding director of the BU Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research, and associate professor of medicine/infectious diseases, said, “You have taken your experience over the last two years and turned it into a testament of your will, intellect, flexibility, and heart. … You helped conduct critical science to combat this pandemic…And when the fault lines that already exist in our society were magnified during this crisis, disproportionately affecting some of our communities, you spoke up.
“As you enter a world of new challenges, go forth knowing that no matter what it throws at you, you have already proven your mettle.
“My hope for you is that no matter what you choose to do with the rest of your life, that you remember these last couple of years and the lessons they have brought to the forefront. Be an advocate for change. Be a force for good,” Bhadelia said. “I wish for you a lifetime of resonance and the feeling of being alive in your personal life and work, through discovery, through advocacy, through finding your own purpose. … Continue to be the most interesting and extraordinary class this School has ever graduated.”
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