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M.D. Graduation Celebration

The sounds of bagpipes echoed throughout Lisner Auditorium as the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) M.D. diploma ceremony commenced, May 19. Welcoming the class of 2013, along with family and friends, Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, G.M.E. ’85, vice president for health affairs and dean of SMHS, said that this day was meant to celebrate and acknowledge the successful efforts of each outstanding medical student.

Next, Vincent A. Chiappinelli, Ph.D., interim associate vice president for health affairs and associate dean of SMHS, honored three members of the faculty who were granted Emeritus status by the GW Board of Trustees: Stephen Baumgart, M.D., professor Emeritus, Department of Pediatrics; Allan Leonard Goldstein, Ph.D., professor Emeritus, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; and Geraldine Poppa Schechter, M.D., professor Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine.

Class valedictorian Nisha Devika Varadarajan introduced keynote speaker Floyd D. Loop, M.D., former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. “A 1962 graduate of GW University, Dr. Loop is internationally recognized for his contributions to cardiac surgical care and leadership in academic medicine,” she said.

“There is no security in life, only opportunities,” Loop told the graduating medical students.  He reminded the students that they had already successfully navigated one of the great opportunities they will have in medicine, and after they complete their residency, the next opportunity will be to make the right decision about where to practice. “Chances are you will align yourself with a health system. Wherever you choose, look for the best place to receive care and the best place to practice care,” he said. “Look for a collaborative and not a competitive environment, one that is safe for your patients.” He stressed the importance of never ceasing to learn and told graduates that acquiring new knowledge at the top of an individual’s field will give them the ability to practice with ease and to grow intelligently with imagination, humanism, and accountability. The challenge the graduates face is how to keep learning and adapting effectively throughout their career, said Loop.  “We enter this profession to discover something for ourselves and for our patients. At the end of your career, it’s all about where you made a difference.”

Next, graduates of the class of 2013 walked across the stage and were hooded by members of the faculty, accepted their diplomas, and signed the SMHS graduate registry.

Graduate Alexandra H. Freeman reflected on the accomplishments, both academic and within the Washington, D.C. community, of her fellow doctors who have become more like friends than classmates. Over the past four years “we laughed together, we cried together, we delivered our first baby together, we experienced our first death together, and we even got completely ignored on rounds together.” On this upcoming journey, Freeman told the class of 2013 to “take good care of yourself, carve out time to exercise and enjoy life, practice mindfulness, and, most importantly, teach and guide the medical students on your team. Always remember your GW family. Be grateful for this day.”

Finally, Akman addressed the graduates before leading them in the reciting the Hippocratic Oath. He described George Washington as one of the great leaders in world history by his display of service, altruism, integrity, and courage. “The path that you have chosen to take demands that you embody those values,” said Akman. “Service and altruism are inextricably linked to the core of your calling to medicine. Integrity is the foundation for all we do, it is the cornerstone of the doctor-patient relationship, and, well, courage is not a word you hear often in medical school, it is fundamental to our identity as physicians. You must have the courage to do the right thing, in the face of social, financial, and other powerful forces.

“There are three important truths from today’s ceremony that are reflective by having your name attached to George Washington,” Akman said. “1) you are a physician; 2) you are now alumni of this great medical school; and 3) you are embracing the ideals of the Hippocratic Oath.”

He left the graduates with the powerful reminder that ethical behavior, professionalism, self-awareness, service to your fellow man, and the courage to live these values are at the core of the physician’s identity. Akman encouraged the graduates to always put their patients first. For these graduates, a new chapter of their lives began as they recited the same Hippocratic Oath as on the day they donned their white coats for the first time.