Empowered and hopeful, 172 new physicians graduate from the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine
The largest class in the history of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine filled the stage of the Carol Morsani Hall in the Straz Center for Performing Arts April 21 as graduating seniors accepted their academic hoods and diplomas.
The Class of 2016’s 172 graduates, along with university and community leaders, stood before friends and family and officially became doctors.
“Today we celebrate truly great traditions in the profession of medicine, the hooding of our new physicians and the taking of the Hippocratic oath, ceremonies with deep historical roots that are as moving today as when I received my own doctoral hood and took the Hippocratic oath 35 years ago,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, dean of the Morsani College of Medicine and senior vice president for USF Health.
“This commencement marks an end as well as a beginning, as each of you commit yourselves to the lifelong pursuit of the art and science of healing.”
Because of his impact as an internationally renowned medicinal chemist and physician who has distinguished himself through his humanitarian commitment and passion to eradicate infectious diseases, Jean-Francois Rossignol, MD, PhD, was presented with an honorary degree.
“What a great honor to be presented with this prestigious award,” Dr. Rossignol said. “I’m very touched and very proud of it and looking forward to spending more time with USF.”
Taking the opportunity to be the first to address the graduating class as physicians, James Gern, MD, greeted the group.
“Good morning doctors,” Dr. Gern said.
He then went on to help the students see themselves by offering them a reflective look at questions he posed the group weeks before: What is one of your best memories from medical school? What is a challenge that you overcame in the last four years? And what is a current and important challenge to the medical profession and/or delivery of quality health care? Grouping the student responses by the themes that emerged, Dr. Gern shared with all some of the highs and lows, from post-exam celebrations and pranks and frog gigging on the Hillsborough River at night, to maintaining balance between work and life and overcoming prejudice and staying happily married, to trying to remain patient-centered and remembering compassion and eliminating health disparities.
“As you enter the next step in your training, try to find something you care deeply about,” Dr. Gern urged the group. “And listen to your patients; smile and ask why the young mother seems unnecessarily worried about her child. And finally, remember to balance your medical career and home life; devote time to relationships, your family, your children. Be a soccer coach. Be a soccer player. Maintain a positive mindset. And go frog gigging on the Hillsborough River. Once again, congratulations on your graduation.”
Jeff Vinik accepted the Dean’s Award in recognition of his inspired vision for downtown Tampa and his generous gesture of making sure the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Health Heart Institute are part of that vision.
“Dr. Lockwood and Dr. Genshaft, I’m so honored to receive this award,” Vinik said. “I’m proud of the many things that we have accomplish, but there is nothing I’m more proud of than our partnerships – and that’s with an ‘s’ on the end – with the University of South Florida. We at the Lightning are almost soul mates with the University of South Florida. Our objectives – quality outcomes, major community advocacy, major community participation – we’re all working together to make this Tampa Bay community a better place. It’s such a pleasure to work with the people at USF and equally a pleasure to work on this College of Medicine.
“The school is in design right now and construction will get under way in 2017. We hope that in 2019 there is a great new medical school building and a great new heart institute. We commit to USF and USF Health; we do not take our responsibility lightly of having the college come downtown. We commit to create an engaging and vibrant 24/7 district, where students and faculty of the USF med school will want to be, helping them recruit and retain the highest quality students and graduates. I’m very thankful for this award and look forward to many years ahead with USF and having more partnerships and working together to make this a better place.”
Then, in unison, the students recited the Oath of Hippocrates, led by John Curran, MD, professor of pediatrics, associate vice president for Faculty and Academic Affairs at USF Health, and senior executive associate dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine. Following that, USF System President Judy Genshaft conferred the Doctor of Medicine degree for the students in toto and, as each name was recited by Kira Zwygart, MD, associate professor and associate dean for MCOM Student Affairs, students walked to center stage to receive their academic hoods and diplomas.
Dr. Zwygart introduced everyone in the Carol Morsani Hall to the now graduated Class of 2016, which was followed by a roar of applause.
In the tradition of the college, a student is chosen among classmates for providing the Farewell From the Class and this year that student was Neil Manimala. Harking back to the group’s first semester together, Dr. Manimala recalled the postponement they had for their first exam because of a hurricane.
“The hurricane did come, but I think you’d agree that it never really went away over the last four years,” Dr. Manimala said. “The most important thing that brought us here today is that tiny thing called hope. Class of 2016! Hope is like a mustard seed – one of the smallest of all seeds, it is a speck in the palm of your hand. But plant that little seed in the right soil and tend it. Let it grow, and it can become one of the greatest of trees – a tree that cannot be shaken by any wind or storm, not even by a hurricane.”
He reminded his fellow graduates that the storm can also provide clarity for why they became physicians.
“Our hope allows us to find solidarity,” Dr. Manimala continued. “It’s that mustard seed so firmly planted in each of our hearts that brings us together, and I pray it will bring you each closer to those you treat. That hope is holding the hand of your beloved patient as he realizes his time on earth is coming to an end, as he tells you that all he wants is to go home and tend his garden, to be with his family – that even when the prognosis is poor, there could still be dignity.”
He then carried his metaphor forward, offering a parallel to the future that was ahead.
“We sometimes talk about doctors who have a God complex, putting up walls of elitism and detachment,” he said. “I submit to you today that yes, we should try to imitate God. But even when you can have it all, with all the knowledge and power, all the privilege and prestige, it’s alright to be weak – to shed a tear with your patients, to let love break down the barriers that separate us. It’s okay to be on the losing end, to know what it means to be poor and in debt, to be overworked, and to have no voice. It’s when you’re small, just like a mustard seed, when you see the true power of your community – the gift of the family that allows you to grow.”
The final offering for the 2016 MCOM Commencement was the Charge to the Class, this year by Steven C. Specter, PhD, associate dean for Alumni Relations and director of the MD Career Advising. He, too, was chosen by the class to provide culminating words of encouragement and promise for what was to come for this group of 172.
Dr. Specter urged the group to remember two words across their careers: be happy.
“Keep these two words with you throughout your careers, throughout all aspects of your lives,” he told the new doctors, and then added his own ideas for how they could succeed in being happy. “Make a set of basic rules to live by and apply them to your patients, colleagues, families and friends consistently. The first is attitude – each day you get to choose your attitude, pick a positive productive demeanor and think about this when you rise in the morning. Make time to play, even at work. Nothing will put your patients, staff, colleagues and family at ease more than a lighthearted spirit. Actively seek to improve the day for each person you encounter in your day, and that includes yourself. Pay attention to your patients when you ask them a question; don’t be thinking of the next question – be in the moment with your patients. My final point is to empower your patients and everyone with whom you share your work and your life.”
Dr. Specter emphasized this last point.
“You must tell a patient both why they should be taking an action to improve their health as well as what they must do,” Dr. Specter said. “Making them an empowered partner also will enhance compliance. You will have healthier, happier patients and, in turn, you will be happy.”
And with that, 172 new physicians stood and marched out of the Morsani Hall, passing between lines of faculty as they applauded the graduates, and into their new lives as healers.
Multimedia by Sandra C. Roa, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications.