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No Ordinary Day

A procession of bagpipes ushered GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) M.D. Program Class of 2014 through Lisner Auditorium at the start of their graduation ceremony on May 18. Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD. ’85, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, vice president for health affairs and dean of SMHS, welcomed the Class of 2014, along with family and friends, telling them that this day was meant to celebrate and acknowledge the successful efforts of each outstanding medical student.

Akman took a moment to recognize an extraordinary alumnus, Gerald S. Lazarus, M.D. ’63, who is stepping down from his position as a member of GW’s Board of Trustees later this year. Lazarus served the institution in this crucial role for nearly a decade. In addition to his outstanding work as a member of the Board of Trustees, “Lazarus will most be remembered for his longstanding commitment to his alma mater, especially his support of medical education,” said Akman. Lazarus and his wife, Audrey endowed a scholarship at GW that assists medical students pursuing unique educational opportunities and experiences in health policy and domestic and global health. Akman introduced Leslie Bishop Tarver, a member of this year’s graduating class and a recipient of the Lazarus Scholarship in Health Care Delivery Program. “Thanks to the Lazarus scholarship I was able to pursue health policy at the international level, complete my Masters of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and become a global health researcher,” she said.

Next, Raymond Lucas, M.D., interim associate dean for faculty affairs and professional development at SMHS, honored the school’s newest Emeritus faculty members: Patience Haydock White, M.D., Professor Emeritus, Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics; David C. Perry, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Departments of Physiology and Pharmacology; David B. Simon, M.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine; and Kenneth L. Becker, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Medicine.

Following Lucas, class valedictorian Karin Johnson Kuhn introduced keynote speaker Kurt Newman, M.D., president and CEO of Children’s National Health System. “As I look at the Class of 2014, I know that in the decades to come you will save lives, solve medical mysteries, and invent technological wonders, building on what you have learned and accomplished at GW,” said Newman. There is a strong relationship between Children’s National and GW he explained. “In additional to all of the students who do their clinical rotation at Children’s, this year five GW medical students matched at Children’s National for their residency,” Newman said, inviting the five students to stand for a round of applause.

Newman spoke optimistically about a health care future fortified by such an eager generation of young doctors. “I have observed that young people going into medicine have never been more enthusiastic or idealist,” he said. Newman encouraged the graduates to embrace change. “I have learned over the course of my career that when there is change, there is opportunity,” he added.

Newman also offered some wisdom for the Class of 2014 — “keep an open mind, find trusted mentors who inspire and encourage you, and never stop learning.” 

The graduates then crossed the stage to be hooded by members of the faculty, accept their diplomas, and sign the SMHS graduate registry.

After, graduate Lauren A. Bruns, who was choose by her classmates to make remarks, reflected on the accomplishments of the M.D. Class of 2014. “An attending physician once told me that being a patient in a hospital or having a loved one in the hospital is never a normal occurrence,” she recalled, something, she added, that it is easy to forget. “We spent almost every waking moment there. For us, being at the hospital was just an ordinary day, completely normal,” she said. Over the past four years, “we laughed with patients, cried with patients, brought lives into this world, and were there when others left. These extraordinary moments became just another ordinary day in the life of a GW medical student,” Burns said. She encouraged graduates to never lose sight of that fact that caring for people is a privilege that they have been given and “there is nothing ordinary about that.”  

Finally, Akman addressed the graduates before leading them in reciting the Hippocratic Oath. He described George Washington as one of the great leaders in world history thanks to 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.

“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.”

The graduates than recited the Hippocratic Oath, as they did on the day they donned their white coats for the first time; but this time was different, this time they were physicians.