Medical School Class of 2023 celebrates endings, transition to new beginnings at Commencement
162 graduates persevered through a global pandemic that has changed medical education, and they are now prepared to go forth as leaders and change agents in health care
For every beginning there is an end. Every end is then followed by a new beginning.
For the 162 graduates who were celebrated in U-M Medical School Commencement on May 12 in Hill Auditorium, what began for them four (or more) years ago as M1 students ended with them being bestowed the title of “doctor.” Their new beginning comes this summer when the class begins its residency training.
“As much as you have learned in the past four years, during your residencies you will learn more, much more,” said Dean Marschall S. Runge, M.D., Ph.D. “Perhaps most important of all, you will learn how important your relationship is with your patients.”
In between their beginnings and ends, the Class of 2023 persevered through a global pandemic that has changed medical education. They are now prepared to go forth as leaders and change agents in health care.
“We have seen so clearly in the past few years how critical health care leaders are — in so many ways. In times of crisis and hardship, physicians and other health care providers offer their patients so much more than treatment. They offer compassion, advice, trust, a reassuring word or smile, and hope that things will be alright,” said Runge, who also serves the U-M as executive vice president for medical affairs and CEO of Michigan Medicine. “Indeed, these past few years we have been tested, as health care trainees, health care professionals, and as people. I hope from your time at Michigan, you will always remember that life is precious and should be cherished, not only in your work, but in your personal lives, as well.”
Executive Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer Debra F. Weinstein, M.D., similarly praised the Class of 2023 for thriving amid COVID-19.
“You rose to this challenge with determination, resilience, and generosity. You advocated for our patients, communities, and for each other, as the depth of inequity and injustice in our society was laid bare. You stand here today as an impressive community comprised of awesome individuals,” she said. “My wish for you — and my prediction about you — is that each of you, through whatever path you take, will elevate the human condition, whether one-patient, in-the-moment at a time, or through your discoveries, leadership or advocacy. Collectively, as leaders, you will shape a better, stronger and more equitable future for health care and medicine.”
In her speech, “The Messiness of Medicine,” student speaker Aseel Haidar likened medical school to a jigsaw puzzle: “Except the pieces are all mixed up. And someone keeps adding new pieces every day. It’s messy and it’s frustrating. And when you think you have it all figured out, you realize that you’ve been working on the wrong puzzle this entire time. Somehow, with enough determination, it all comes together in the end, and you have a beautiful picture of a doctor with student loans.”
Haidar, who will begin her residency in family medicine at Michigan Medicine in July, urged her classmates to reflect and hold on dearly to the unparalleled moments of joy, celebration and success they experienced in medical school.
“These moments could be as small as a patient’s family whispering ‘she’s so nice’ after a visit, or as memorable as spending one night a week with friends practicing your dance moves for the next Biorhythms performance. Perhaps it was delivering your first baby on your OB rotation, or even the simple pleasure of being told to go home by a resident,” Haidar said. “Regardless of what it was, these moments of joy and success were not just fleeting moments of happiness, but powerful and impactful experiences that made the struggle and the messiness of medical school feel worth it.”
U-M alumna Rana Awdish, M.D., the day’s featured speaker, told the graduates how she survived a near-death experience as a patient in 2008, and how that event changed her as a doctor and teacher. She is author of “In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope,” a bestselling memoir based on her own critical illness.
“One of the reasons I was invited to speak to you today is that I know something about when things don’t go to plan. Instead of graduating gracefully from my pulmonary and critical care fellowship, I died instead. I somehow chose the exact moment of the final day of training, after seventeen years of post-secondary education to bleed to death in my own hospital. All that time, I had a tumor in my liver, slowly growing. And when it burst, an arterial bleed. CHAOS.”
A pulmonary and critical care physician at Henry Ford Health, Awdish survived and traveled a long road to recovery. In her return to practice, she integrated compassionate communication strategies and narrative medicine into the curriculum at her organization.
“Not only have you successfully graduated from one of the most prestigious and rigorous medical schools in the country, but you have also successfully managed to do it during a once in a century novel respiratory pandemic. Well done, you!”
Awdish told the graduates to practice acceptance that they can’t control everything, attunement to the next thing, and acclimation to their new profession. She said that medicine needs them, and that they need not conform, but rather allow medicine to bend to look like them.
“So, graduates of the Class of 2023, my call to you, as you enter this sometimes challenging and intensely rewarding profession, is to ask you to stay attuned for the beautiful shimmery things that light you up from the inside,” she said. “If you do the thing that you can’t help doing because it brings so much beauty and joy into your life, you will be changed by it. And the people around you will be changed by it. And that is enough.”
She concluded: “Welcome, Class of 2023, we’ve been waiting for you.”
Assistant Professor of Family Medicine Julie A. Blaszczak, M.D., MEHP, received the Senior Award, which goes to a member of the faculty of the Medical School, who, in the view of the graduating class, best exemplifies the ideals of the teacher-clinician. She told the graduates that they are now all educators.
“You have spent so much time, and will continue to spend so much time, considering what kind of doctors you want to be, but I want you to take these few minutes to think about what kind of educators you want to be,” she said. “No matter where the next step in this journey takes you, you will be supervising sub-Is, teaching medical students on their first clinical rotations, or educating your patients on their newly diagnosed condition.”
The moment that the graduates had been waiting for finally arrived when Associate Dean for Medical Student Education Seetha U. Monrad, M.D., presented this year’s graduating seniors — the 173rd class of new U-M doctors. After each of the graduates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas, Runge led the newly minted doctors in the time-honored tradition of reciting the Hippocratic Oath.
To conclude, Weinstein led attendees in the singing of “The Yellow and Blue” and a rousing rendition of “The Victors.”
A recording of the ceremony can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/fLbGpMJOsDg.