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MD Graduates Take Next Steps on Path of Medicine

There was only one thing standing between medical students at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Game of Thrones series finale Sunday, May 19: the 2019 MD Diploma Ceremony.

The graduates followed the sound of bagpipes into Lisner Auditorium and were met with the roar of applause from their family, friends, and the SMHS faculty as they took their seats in front of the stage, ready to close out the first part of their medical journey.

“I know there were times when you felt like this was a tough path you had chosen,” said keynote speaker Barbara Lee Bass, MD, RESD ’86, John F., Jr. and Carolyn Bookout Presidential Distinguished Chair of the Department of Surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital, to the graduates. “But be sure, you have chosen a great path for a life’s mission and just passed another great milestone.”

Bass asked the new MDs to hold on to a series of key memories as they moved on from the formative period of medical school. “I hope you remember the feeling of today,” she said. “To keep you grounded, remember the physical space where you’ve made this journey. … Remember the anticipatory anxiety I suspect you are feeling for the next wave of your life.”

Additionally, she added with a smile, “remember how you feel next month when you step into the wards or clinics of the first day of PGY-I and try to remember that set of feeling so that 12 months later, when you begin your second year, you will realize you’re present anxiety was actually pretty well founded.”

After the members of the Class of 2019 were hooded and received their diplomas, fellow graduate and student speaker Lillian Dawit shared an emotional take on the medical school experience with the audience.

“There will be inevitable moments when you ask yourself, ‘Can I really do this?’” she said. “Well, friends, take a look at the doctor sitting to your right and the doctor sitting to your left. Know that you are capable, you are intelligent, you are resilient, and you did do this.”

Dawit also recalled a tip that Rhonda Goldberg, MA, associate dean for student affairs at SMHS, shared with the students in their first year. “[She] told us we would learn who our big rocks are in medical school,” she said. “As I look out into the audience I see my big rocks in front of me.”

Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, delivered the charge to the graduates, encouraging them to find an area or an issue in health care where they can make an impact.

“Find an issue that you are passionate about,” he said. “And with your white coat, grab it and run with it. … I am incredibly proud and excited that today we are unleashing you as a powerful force to make a difference across our great country. Americans believe that health care is the number one issue facing our country. You as GW physicians have the power to do something about it.”

Before leading the new doctors in reciting the Hippocratic Oath and closing the ceremony, Akman drew a parallel between Game of Thrones and the step the graduates were about to take.

“For those of you who are Game of Thrones fans, you know that oaths and the challenges associated with keeping oaths … have been important themes in the show,” he said. “Brienne of Tarth’s oath was to protect Sansa Stark, and her sword was called ‘Oathkeeper.’ You too are meant to become oath keepers.”