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Healthcare Leaders Address Class of 2011

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, June 16, 2011

At more than 130 medical schools across the country 16,000 medical students this spring have  received their diplomas, taken the Hippocratic Oath, and heard inspirational words from a commencement speaker.

No one tracks who speaks at medical school graduations so we made a few calls, sent some e-mails and rounded up excerpts from the best ones we found.  Some are poignant and some are funny, but there is no denying the overarching message: healthcare and the practice of medicine are at a crossroads.

Harvard Medical School

Atul Gawande, M.D., HMS professor and author of The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

"We are at a cusp point in medical generations. The doctors of former generations lament what medicine has become. If they could start over, the surveys tell us, they wouldn't choose the profession today. They recall a simpler past without insurance-company hassles, government regulations, malpractice litigation, not to mention nurses and doctors bearing tattoos and talking of wanting balance in their lives. These are not the cause of their unease, however. They are symptoms of a deeper condition—which is the reality that medicine's complexity has exceeded our individual capabilities as doctors.  

"….No one person can work up a patient's back pain, run the immunoassay, do the physical therapy, protocol the MRI, and direct the treatment of the unexpected cancer found growing in the spine. I don't even know what it means to "protocol" the MRI.

 "The public's experience is that we have amazing clinicians and technologies but little consistent sense that they come together to provide an actual system of care, from start to finish, for people. We train, hire, and pay doctors to be cowboys. But it's pit crews people need."

John Hopkins University School of Medicine

Henry Brem, M.D., Director of the Department of Neurosurgery at The Johns Hopkins Hospital

"…never neglect or deny your own family. You can focus on different aspects of your career but your family is a constant and will always need you and be with you. In your work choose activities that will have the highest impact. But realize that as important as your work is, your impact on your own family is irreplaceable and immeasurably important. No one can substitute for you, as a son or daughter, sister or brother, spouse, friend, or most critically as a parent.

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