Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Good morning everyone, and congratulations on being here! I’m delighted to welcome you to medical school!!
What I’d like to do in the next few minutes is to give you my personal perspective on this grand adventure you’ve embarked upon.
Things have changed so much in medical education since I was in your shoes, that it’s hard to believe only a few short decades have gone by.
One thing that has changed markedly is how students learn. When I was in medical school, it was a matter of memorizing dense—and sometimes dusty—tomes. You won’t have to rely on your memory in quite the same way. You’ll be navigating databases and monitoring updates. You probably can’t even imagine a world without the Internet—and frankly, at this point, neither can I!
On the other hand, in a textbook world, “facts” remain facts for a number of years, while what you will be learning will probably evolve… even while you’re still in school!
A set of very different challenges!
The second big change in the past few decades is in the practice of medicine itself. When I started out, we had no CT. No MRI. No mammogram or ultrasound. It was still a time of widespread exploratory surgery—a costly, painful, often unsuccessful way of trying to pinpoint the source of a problem. Today, we can see inside the body with astonishing precision—without ever going near a scalpel!
Advances in surgery have been equally dramatic, thanks to the proliferation of minimally invasive techniques. Most incisions today are a fraction of the size they used to be, with all that implies for healing and recovery times. And therapeutics has followed a similar trajectory.
All of this will equip you with an array of diagnostic and treatment options we barely dreamed of when I was sitting where you are today. The profession you will be entering is far more empowered to help patients stay well and get better.
Medically speaking, at least.
But you will also have to contend with complexities that simply weren’t there before. Outside forces—from regulatory agencies to insurance companies—play a much larger role today. The notion of a single practitioner “hanging out a shingle” seems part of a bygone era. There will be times when your political and navigational skills will prove as decisive to success as your professional judgment.
I often think how remarkable it is that— despite the vastness of all these changes—the essence of being a physician hasn’t moved an inch. Ours is a very old profession that at its core remains what it has aspired to be since ancient times: a commitment to helping other people.
And I don’t think there is a medical school anywhere that is better equipped than this one to instill that central truth.
This is a very special place—a place that will help you hold fast to the ideals that inspired you to go into medicine.
I think you’ll find that there is a particular form of excitement here. Tremendous vitality. A palpable sense of dedication to the institution and all those it serves.
A chief source of that uniqueness is our legacy. NYU School of Medicine has roots going back 168 years.
Our founders were luminaries. John Revere, who held the School’s first chair in the theory and practice of medicine, was the youngest son of Paul Revere, and one of the most prominent physicians of his time. Valentine Mott, equally prominent as a surgeon, was the first professor of surgery—pre-anesthesia surgery, I should add.
In fact, when those two visionaries joined forces to found our School, anesthesia was still five years in the future. It would be another 25 years until people started realizing that an OR needed to be clean. And almost 75 years until x-rays first made it possible to see inside the body.
168 years of commitment to the same mission in a world dizzy with change. That is really quite something, don’t you think?
Walter Reed. Jonas Salk. Albert Sabin. Nobel-prize winners Julius Axelrod…. Severo Ochoa…Baruj Benacceraf, and Eric Kandel…. I could probably keep you here for the rest of the week citing examples of the great physicians who have taught and trained here.
It is a truly astonishing legacy of science and service—a legacy to which, I have no doubt, you will be adding your own accomplishments one day.
So what will all this mean for you these next four years? I think it means that you have come to the best possible place to become who you want to be.
An important part of our job, as faculty, is to help you figure out exactly who that is. We want you to emerge from your studies of medicine with a sense of passion—having defined what you believe in most profoundly and what brings you the deepest joy.
I want the medical degree you receive from us four years hence to be just the beginning of something wonderful: a calling where you get to experience the immense satisfaction of giving to other people’s lives, in ways that perpetually enrich your own.
Here’s to four glorious years!