As a sea of excited students waited to march into the auditorium at the University of Miami’s Watsco Center on Saturday to celebrate four inspiring, demanding years of medical school and the incredible opportunity that lies ahead, Kelly McCarter thought for a moment and then described the significance of this day:
“It’s been a long time coming, a lot of hard work,” she said. “It’s so great that all the effort we put in, all the time, is finally coming to an end, and we get to see how much of an accomplishment it is.” In McCarter’s case the path now leads to New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center for training in obstetrics and gynecology, because “it’s something I found I am passionate about.”
The new doctor then joined her classmates in the commencement procession, to the cheers of family, friends and faculty and a congratulatory welcome from Edward Abraham, M.D., executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of UHealth, and dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School of Medicine.
“We are here to recognize and honor the members of the Class of 2018, the 63rd class to graduate from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine,” Abraham said. “Today, you will officially become physicians, which gives you the remarkable opportunity to prevent illness and help those in need of medical care.”
He then expressed a theme that was repeated throughout the ceremony, by every speaker. “During your four years at the Miller School … above all we reminded you to be guided by the qualities that come from your heart: compassion, patience, empathy, persistence, and respect.”
UM President Julio Frenk’s message to the graduates encouraged them to continue the leadership they have shown in their work at the Miller School. “I hope that your time at the University of Miami has prepared you to be a citizen who does not simply stand by and watch history, but one who helps shape history,” he said. “I am very proud that at the U, students do not wait until after commencement to engage with the world’s challenges.
“No matter which path you choose, continue to speak your truth, consider what is right and just, and explore how your life and career can serve others, as this is the essence of medicine.”
Presiding trustee Dr. Phillip T. George (whose nephew Louis Vincent is a member of the Class of 2018) introduced the recipient of the honorary doctor of science degree, Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall Jr., a surgical oncologist at Howard University who has spent a long career overcoming barriers and inspiring thousands of medical students to be compassionate and caring physicians.
After becoming just the third African-American to complete a surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Leffall joined the faculty at Howard and went on to serve as chair of the Department of Surgery and in other leadership roles.
Leffall began his commencement address by introducing himself as “a native Floridian from the big city of Quincy, Florida, who always wanted to be a physician.” Leffall, who is the Charles R. Drew Professor of Surgery at Howard, described the essential mentorship that Dr. Drew provided for him and many other medical students. Leffall was a member of the last class Drew taught in 1950, before his death in an automobile accident.
“He was a giant then, and he remains a giant today,” Leffall said. “He did so much to make life better for all of us. I think the personal pronoun ‘I’ was unknown to him — it was always ‘we.’
“He instilled great pride in young black physicians, reminding us that there is no substitute for your best,” said Leffall, who encourages medical students to give of themselves as Drew did, and to always find ways to do more. “Think about the lives you will represent in a positive way,” he said.
The student speaker, selected by her classmates, was Ann Polcari of the M.D./M.P.H. program, who is headed to the University of Chicago for a residency in general surgery.
“When applying to medical school, we all declared a fundamental reason for choosing this profession: to give life through health,” she said. “Today, this wish still rings true, though with greater depth and meaning than ever before. Today, this desire goes beyond merely wanting to help others; rather, it’s about partnering with patients to achieve their health goals.”
Polcari is grateful for the opportunity she had this year to serve on the Miller School admissions committee, where she looked for the qualities of her classmates in the new applicants. “The most essential trait, and one that UM has certainly cultivated in us, is being a giver,” she said. “Being a giver is more than basic altruism; it is using the desire to do good in the world as a driving force for accomplishing our goals. It’s measuring one’s success not in dollar signs, but in the positive impact you’ve had on others.
“This embodies our class, with students who ran a non-profit organization, played a role in social justice efforts, and conducted research that will lay the groundwork for new treatments and safety in health care.”
Polcari urged her classmates to keep giving — to give thanks to their professors, classmates, friends and families; to give guidance to the medical students who come behind them; to give love and encouragement to each other; and to give hope to patients and their families “that you will guide them through the most vulnerable times of their lives with compassion and expertise.”
Presented by Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, and Daniel M. Lichtstein, M.D., regional dean for medical education, members of the graduating class walked across the stage to be hooded. Near the end of the ceremony they repeated the Hippocratic Oath, adapted for the Declaration of Geneva.
Faculty members expressed the deepest pride in the new physicians, both before and after the ceremony. “This is my favorite event,” said Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., chair of the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery. “I come close to tears when they announce ‘you’re all doctors’ and I look at the faces of the parents and students. It’s so moving — just talking about it gives me goose bumps.”
Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., executive dean for education and policy, talked about the significance of the ceremony. “Commencement loops the medical students into the academic traditions of the University and emphasizes the important duality of medical education: a combination of training in the skills and competencies of the practice of medicine and the mechanisms underpinning the principles of medical science,” he said. “These form the basis of evidenced-based medical practice.”
Joan St. Onge, M.D., senior associate dean for graduate medical education, had many reasons to celebrate. Earlier in the week, she received an M.P.H. from UM, and then she attended medical commencement. “I think it’s incredibly exciting to see every single person you watched for the last four years finish and honor what they’ve done but also look ahead to what’s next,” she said. “It’s a huge day.”
Profiles of three members of the Class of 2018 can be found in an earlier article here.
A photo gallery from the commencement ceremonies can be found here.