To the Class of 2013: Join us on that noble journey

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Members of the Class of 2013 with Dr. Dennis Ledford and the ceremonial mace

Run faster. Reach higher.  Push forward to do the impossible to help patients, the graduating students of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Class of 2013 were told at Friday’s commencement ceremonies.

“You’ve trained to be physicians, and you have a bold opportunity to care and to welcome and to share love in a way that only a few can,” Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, one of the world’s leading patient safety advocates, told the class. “You have chosen medicine and your time is now. You see, medicine needs you.”

Dr. Pronovost, MD, PhD, FCCM, has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine and received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 2008. The senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Pronovost regularly addresses the U.S. Congress on patient safety issues.

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Dr. Pronovost addresses graduates

Dr. Pronovost was blunt with graduates as he laid out the failings of today’s healthcare system.

“Let me share the challenges that are waiting for someone like you to take on,” he told them. “You possess unprecedented skills to relieve suffering, yet you are also entering a health system weighed down by profound problems. Medicine as it’s practiced today often ignores the patients values and input.

“Medicine today leaves preventable harm as the third-leading cause of death. Medicine today wastes up to 30 percent of healthcare spending, nearly a trillion dollars a year, for procedures and treatments of no benefit to patients. Medicine today leaves physicians often worried more about regulation than what is best for patients.”

But problems can be fixed, he told them. Dr. Pronovost spoke of how Dr. Charles Paidas, now the College of Medicine ‘s vice dean of Clinical Affairs and Graduate Medical Education, had saved a toddler girl injured by severe burns when he worked with Dr. Pronovost at Johns Hopkins a dozen years ago. Sadly, the girl later succumbed to a preventable central line blood infection. Dr. Pronovost described his feelings as the girl’s mother asked him if safety changes had been made.

“If I didn’t feel ashamed, I’d know there was a hole in my soul,” he said.

But then Dr. Pronovost and his colleagues went to work to prevent these infections. They created checklists of best practices, developed better reporting, and improved other procedures. They expanded their mission to other hospitals, “each of which has an infection rate so low it was once considered impossible,” he said.

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Dr. Paidas and Dr. Pronovost before commencement ceremonies

Dr. Pronovost pointed to how fast the sport of running changed after Roger Bannister – a doctor, he pointed out – broke the four-minute mile in 1956. A dozen more did it the next year, and even more the year after. Today, the nation’s best high school students regularly break that barrier.

“After this first famous run, the human body didn’t suddenly evolve,” he said. “The only thing that changed is what people believed they could do.

“For runners, Bannister showed the way. For your corner of medicine, you can show the way too.”

Dr. Pronovost was eloquent as he called upon the graduates to work for better, safer medicine.

“Come join us. Do the great good thing for someone else that the world says cannot be done. Over 200,000 patients die from medical mistakes each year. We could fix that. Join us on that noble journey.

“Patients today are suffering harm and disrespect that doesn’t have to be. We could fix that. Join us on this noble journey. Nearly a third of our healthcare spending goes for therapies that do not get patients well. We could fix this. Join us on this noble journey.

“Today, graduates, enjoy your celebrations. Tonight, reflect on why you joined this noble profession and consider your dreams. Tomorrow, get running. Open your eyes to that four-minute impossibility. When you find it, you’ll know it.”

Others called on the graduates to work for better medicine as well.

“I encourage you to find a way to care for you patients…to love your patients,” said Dr. Michael Flannery, professor and former director of the residency program for Internal Medicine, as he delivered the charge to the class. “To love your patients, you have to love yourself.”

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Dr. Michael Flannery challenges the class

Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health, congratulated the graduates.

“You begin a career filled with creativity, passion and yes, optimism,” he said.

Rhea Law, Esq., former chair of the Board of Trustees, received an honorary MD degree at Friday’s commencement. Dr. Klasko presented Dean’s Awards to philanthropists Tom and Lauren Pepin, as well as to Dr. Larry Howard, of Hudson Ventures, and his father, Robert Howard.

_HCM4164-webRhea Law, Esq., receives an honorary MD

The Class of 2013 chose classmate Dr. Joshua Robertson to deliver the farewell speech for the class.

“Today we celebrate change, a crossing over from student to practitioner,” he told them. “Today we become physicians. We’re in the business of human. And at times we can feel the burden of cure.

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The new Dr. Joshua Robertson gives the class farewell speech

“What we must be is willing to do is enter into the struggle of our patients. Enter into what they go through, day in and day out, under our care. We can promise, we can hold ourselves to a commitment, to a willingness, to a vigilance, to fight for the care of our patients. …And that way we honor the oath we have taken today and we honor the patients we serve.”

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- Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications