University of South Florida

Dr. Lockwood’s commencement remarks: Class of 2023 has already faced a global challenge

The Class of 2023 at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine had just started medical school when the pandemic changed the world. “You had front-row seats to observe that those who practice medicine are vital to preserving our society – and just how all-consuming the demands of medicine can be,” Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, executive vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, told the graduates Thursday. Here is his commencement speech. 

By Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM

Welcome, everyone. It is an honor to address you on this memorable occasion.

Let me begin by thanking our outstanding faculty, staff, donors, and alumni for their dedication to our program.

In particular, I would like to express our gratitude to Frank and Carol Morsani, who are in attendance today, for their invaluable support of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and its students.

I also would like to recognize one of our exceptional faculty leaders, Dr. John T. Sinnott, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. Dr. Sinnott recently announced his plans to retire from this leadership role.

John, on behalf of your colleagues, your students, and the many patients you have treated, I want to thank you for your many contributions to improving the health of all Floridians. We are all deeply grateful for your extraordinary commitment to medical student teaching. John won the medical student teaching award so often that we named the prize after him!

Let me also recognize the parents, family members, friends, and loved ones of this remarkable class. You have been our students’ chief advocates and principal supporters. So, thank you for making all this possible.

But most importantly, please join me in welcoming our class of 2023. Congratulations, doctors!!

As your dean, it has been my unique privilege to watch your progression over these four years, and each of you should take great pride in reaching this milestone.

Today marks both an end and a beginning — a time to recall what first motivated you to become a physician, and what now inspires you to pursue your chosen career path.

You have arrived here today because of your sustained commitment to the noble goal of becoming a physician and your resilience has paid off.

I speak for all of USF Health when I say that we could not be prouder of you…all the more so because you have made your way through medical school during a time of unprecedented challenges to health care, to your own education and to society as a whole.

You were still in your first year of medical school when a global pandemic showed us just how demanding the profession you planned to enter could be.

You had front-row seats to observe that those who practice medicine are vital to preserving our society – and just how all-consuming the demands of medicine can be. Your own education was disrupted, access to research impaired, and, despite the demands of learning your craft, you volunteered countless hours at COVID testing sites, in clinics, and even manufacturing the viral test kits that the Morsani College of Medicine developed to help the world combat this scourge.

And yet here you are!

The great stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Like other stoics, he believed that life’s obstacles were simply opportunities to not only learn and practice patience, humility, and courage but also resourcefulness, creativity, and deep reasoning, shorn of emotion.

And surely, there can be no better example of this philosophy in action than how you overcame the past four years’ challenges. Each of you has already faced your first great career obstacle — and you are all stronger for it.

You enter medicine with a fierce urgency and a sureness of purpose. You have succeeded by exhibiting remarkable humility, patience, innovation, logic, and grit.

And these are precisely the characteristics that you will need to be successful in the noblest of professions.

For just as the world is at an inflection point, so is medicine.

In the 21st century, health is global, not local; dynamic, not static; and medical knowledge, as I have told you on countless occasions, is accelerating at an unimaginable rate.

To succeed in this new environment, the medical profession must continuously evolve.

In the past few months alone, we have witnessed a vast leap forward in this evolution, as Artificial Intelligence has shown us just a glimpse of a new world of possibilities.

I have no doubt that AI and other new technologies will provide great benefits to medicine. At Tampa General Hospital, AI is already alerting us to the earliest, most subtle signs of sepsis, the leading cause of hospital deaths, and assisting radiologists in evaluating mammograms and chest X-rayss.

AI will soon act as a personal scribe, freeing up time currently spent documenting electronic medical records, and provide decision support prompts to avoid errors and optimize patient management.

A new generation of surgical robots will soon aid in ever more complex and precise surgeries. New genomic and immunologically-based therapies will provide us with cures we can’t even imagine yet.

So in addition to the virtues I just mentioned, as physicians, we must also embrace a commitment to self-reflection, lifelong learning, and scientific inquiry.

Yet even as we integrate these new technologies into our practice, and embrace each successive challenge to the status quo, we must also hold fast to the empathy and humanism that make physicians more valuable than any computer program.

The Generative Pretrained Transformer (or GPT), whether version 4 or 8 or 100, will never deliver babies into this world, nor hold the hand of a dying patient to comfort them.

Caring for patients is still the heart and soul of the art of medicine.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that we are suffering from an epidemic of loneliness in our society. He stressed the importance of caring for our patients holistically, of treating not just their symptoms but asking larger questions about the social supports and emotional bonds that help keep them healthy.

We must ask these questions of ourselves and each other as well – for the pandemic attacked not only our bodies but also the social networks that keep us whole. The past few years, we have spent too much time apart – and we need to re-dedicate ourselves to the value of connection and collaboration to our family, friends, and colleagues.

I just attended a reunion of my residency colleagues, and it reminded me of just how critical they all were in helping me get through those very challenging years of apprenticeship.

So I urge you to stay true to all the values you have acquired at the Morsani College of Medicine – and strive for excellence in all you do.

And as I tell every graduating class, live up to the ancient stoic admonition that: “True happiness lies in the full use of your powers, along lines of excellence, in a life affording scope.”

We are very excited to see all that you will accomplish in your careers. Wherever your future takes you, please know that you always have a home here at the Morsani College of Medicine. Congratulations, Class of 2023!

USF Health Distinguished Professor Remarks

And now it is my pleasure to announce the faculty member who will be the newest recipient of one of the highest academic honors that USF Health can bestow – being named a USF Health Distinguished Professor.

Established in 2007, this title is awarded to senior members of our faculty who have distinguished themselves among their peers both within and outside the university.

The title is awarded through a process of nomination and external peer review and identifies those holding it as outstanding members of their profession.

This year, the Morsani College of Medicine’s recipient of this honor exemplifies all three of our mission areas — education, patient care, and research. At a moment when science is often greeted with skepticism, it is more critical than ever that our medical school shines as a beacon, illuminating the value of scientific inquiry.

I am happy to say that under the leadership of Dr. Stephen B. Liggett, vice dean of research, we are doing exactly that. Research awards to the Morsani College of Medicine have increased from $128 million in 2014 to $305 million in 2021.

Dr Liggett leads by example as well. In his own research, which focuses on studying genomics and receptors as they relate to heart and lung disease, Dr. Liggett holds 15 patents and has over 25 years of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Please join me in congratulating our newest USF Health Distinguished Professor, Dr. Stephen B. Liggett.

 Dean’s Award Remarks

Finally, I have the privilege of announcing the recipient of this year’s Dean’s Award, presented for outstanding contributions to the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and to the public’s health.

This year’s award winner is Mayor Jane Castor, leader of our beautiful city of Tampa.

Mayor Castor has just completed a remarkable first term in office, providing innovative and courageous leadership during an incredibly challenging time. And she was sworn-in a few weeks ago for her second term after a landslide electoral victory.

When COVID-19 struck in 2020, Mayor Castor acted swiftly to protect our citizens, taking steps to reduce COVID cases in the city, organizing relief efforts and increasing access to vaccines. She was able to balance public health measures with continued economic development of the city, perhaps better than any other big city mayor in America. And she did that all with remarkable grace and humor.

We have seen her same sure and steady hand in other public health crises as well, including the city’s response to Hurricane Ian.

We at USF Health are incredibly grateful for her friendship, her continuing partnership, and her commitment to making the city of Tampa a healthier place to live and work.

Jane, I am exceptionally pleased to be recognizing you with the 2023 Morsani College of Medicine Dean’s Award. Congratulations!

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