In the story of higher education and professional careers, the chapter on medical school — one of hard work, endurance, and excellence — came to a close on Sunday, May 15, at the M.D. graduation. GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) fourth-year medical students needed to make just one edit.
“Remember, it’s not MSIV, it’s M.D., for the first time,” said W. Scott Schroth, M.D., M.P.H. ’90, associate dean for administration and associate professor of medicine at SMHS, as he instructed graduates on how to sign the GW registry.
As the students prepared to ascend the stage to receive their hoods and scrawl their signatures into the book, the Class of 2016 — whose members received awards on Friday, May 13, at the annual Medical Student Gala — was reminded of the importance of their own stories and those of their patients.
“Here’s what I’ve learned: there’s a place for dispassion in the science of medicine, and there’s a place for passion in the art of caring,” said keynote speaker Jonathan B. Perlin, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.H.A., MACP, FACMI, president of clinical services and chief medical officer of the Hospital Corporation of America. Perlin, who detailed the importance of narrative in the practice of medicine, is the son of prominent members of the GW community, Seymour Perlin, M.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SMHS, and Ruth Perlin, a member of the GW Museum Board of Directors; together, Seymour and Ruth Perlin serve on the Friends of Luther Brady Gallery Board.
“If you really know your own story and are true to it, it’s much easier to know the patient story,” Perlin continued. “If you know the patient story, you’ll be a better doctor. If you incorporate that story into yours, you’ll have more fun, you’ll cherish the privilege of medicine and patient care, and you’ll be a happier, better, and more fulfilled person.”
Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, who presented his annual charge to the graduates, also urged them to think of their patients, particularly when social or financial forces could potentially turn them away.
“[Have] the courage to care for a patient with a deadly infection, such as Ebola or Zika, or to be a first responder at a devastating earthquake,” he urged. “To speak out against challenging social issues, such as the epidemic of gun violence. To join those families with a loved one with mental illness or a neurodevelopmental disability and combat the pernicious consequences of stigma. To be the only physician in a community to provide compassionate care for a woman who finds herself with a complicated reproductive decision.”
That courage is one of several attributes — service, altruism, integrity — that SMHS students have learned to embody as they turn the page on their time in medical school.
“We have grown together; we have changed each other,” said student speaker Justin Mark Capuzzo, M.D. ’16. “I wish each and every one of you the very best in your careers. I pray that every day you stay true to the values that GW has instilled in us, [and] that no matter where we end up, we always stay proud and remember our time training at this institution.”
For Margarita Ramos, M.D. ’16, the conclusion of a four-year stretch of intense studying and bonding came with a delayed reaction. “I really haven’t thought about it; I think it’s because this year I didn’t even want to graduate,” she said. “I’ve so enjoyed being with my classmates.”
Ramos, who earned the Pediatric Departmental Award for Excellence in Care, Advocacy, Research, and Education, is also one of four Adopt-a-Doc scholarship recipients graduating this year. The scholarship, provided by a GW alumni or friend of the school, made her feel more supported, she said, both financially and emotionally, and allowed her to pursue what she’s passionate about: pediatrics. She also felt inspired to incorporate teaching and mentorship in the future, among other goals.
“[GW] really instilled in us a desire to mentor others as well as [gave] us mentors to learn from,” she said. “I was given a lot of opportunities at GW to start learning how to be a good educator. All of that has made me want to teach medical students and, maybe one day, residents. I don’t know if that’ll be in the form of lectures or teaching at the bedside in the hospital, but I really do hope to be part of the group that trains the next generation.”
Before they could start the next chapter — residency — the students completed their walk across the stage to rounds of applause.
“[Your story] is only partially written, but it’s off to a great start,” Perlin said. “Bravo!”