For the class of 2011, change is gonna come


The USF College  of Medicine awarded 112 MD degrees.

           In the not-so-distant medical past, newly-minted doctors learned to dispense written prescriptions and exam room wisdom.

            Now they’re fielding medical questions on Facebook.

            Dr. John Emerson, who was chosen by his classmates in the class of 2011 to deliver the farewell address at Thursday’s College of Medicine graduation ceremonies, shared one such question with his audience. Oddly enough, his friend posted it publicly on Dr. Emerson’s Facebook wall:

           “Hey Johnny, I got a quick question for you, man. Does fish oil have any effect on birth control pills?”

           Funny, yes – but it raises some more serious issues as well, said Dr. Emerson, this year’s student council president.

Graduate John Emerson, MD,  delivered the farewell from the Class of 2011.

          “The paradigms of the way we practice and deliver healthcare are changing, and they are doing so drastically and rapidly,” Dr. Emerson said. “The way we will practice medicine during our residency, over the next five years, and in 20 years is truly unknown.”

          That means that the doctors of the class of 2011 must expect – and even lead – change, said Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health.

          “You are entering a time in medicine and health care in which the future is a blank sheet of paper that will be filled in by this generation of doctors,” he told the graduates.

          And it won’t be enough for them to practice medicine.

         “Healthcare is crying out for transformation,” Dr. Klasko told them. “Not reform of a broken system, but true transformation.

         “Wanting to change the health care system may not be easy. Depending how successful you are, you may be called crazy, idealistic or worse,” he told them. “But in 2011, the Oath of Hippocrates has to mean more than not doing harm.  We expect you to be the change agents for a new, enlightened healthcare system.”

         Dramatic change is so certain for this crop of graduates that Dr. Elliot Sussman, who received an honorary USF degree Thursday, called it “permanent whitewater.”

        Even so, said Dr. Sussman, some lessons for this year’s graduates are the ones that every physician has needed to learn:

        Realize you can’t know everything. Accept that some patients, despite your best efforts, will not get better. Walk with humility.

       “Be with your patients,” Dr. Sussman said. “Don’t tower over them.”

       Dr. Sussman, now a professor of medicine in the USF College of Medicine, is past chair of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Medical Colleges, as well as the past president and CEO of Lehigh Valley Health Network. Under Dr. Sussman’s leadership, Lehigh Valley became recognized as one of the nation’s best academic community health systems.

        Dr. Sussman now is helping USF Health in its new partnership with The Villages community. The goal: to transform The Villages into “America’s healthiest hometown.”

         Two other people were recognized at Thursday’s commencement by being honored with a Dean’s Award from Dr. Klasko.

         Carol Morsani, is a longtime leading supporter of USF Health. She and her husband gave the leadership gift that established the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care. Mrs. Morsani also is the founding honorary chair of the USF Women in Leadership & Philanthropy program, which educates and informs women about the skills and opportunities for effective community leadership and philanthropic efforts.


L to R: Frank Morsani, Rhea Law, Carol Morsani (recipient of a Dean’s Award), and Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine and CEO for USF Health.

        Dr. Klasko told the crowd that Mrs. Morsani is the one he asks “whenever I have an idea and I need an honest opinion.” He thanked her for her visionary talents, describing her as “a community partner who sees the future.”

         The other awardee was Dr. John Malone, a founding faculty member in pediatrics at the USF College of Medicine.  Dr. Klasko pointed to Dr. Malone’s many scientific achievements, including his work in showing that controlling insulin levels more closely could help reduce complications from diabetes.

         Dr. Malone has accomplished all this while facing his own health challenges: he recently was recognized for being a 50-year survivor of Type 1 diabetes. As a young man, he was told he shouldn’t pursue a career in medicine because of his diabetes.

         “Thank you for being a role model for every one of these physician scientists,” Dr. Klasko told him.

         Those new physicians will have moments when things seem dark, Dr. Klasko warned them. When patients are ailing, or when the change they pursue seems hard to realize.

        “Even in those times of doubt,” he told them, “I hope the idealism you feel today will shine through.”

         Never give up that commitment, said Dr. Glenn Catalano, professor in psychiatry and neurosciences, in one of the few serious moments in his charge to the graduates – a talk peppered by well-received jokes about Charlie Sheen and other news of the day.

         “They’re like Mother Teresa,” Dr. Catalano said of past doctors who have delivered the speech. “I’m like Snooki from Jersey Shore.”

          Still, Dr. Catalano found time to advise the graduates on a few serious points.

          “You have the responsibility to do your best,” he said. “You must be relentless in the care of your patients.”


A 2035 USF COM graduate?

           Dr. Emerson pointed to the message of one of his own heroes, iconic runner Steve Prefontaine: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

           They are words Dr. Emerson has tried to live by. They speak to what lies ahead for the class of 2011:

           “The passion for service, the respect and dignity that we will provide our patients, the excellence of care, empathy and compassion are our gifts to be shared with our patients,” he said. “To provide anything other than the best care possible is to sacrifice this wonderful gift we have.”

           Oh, and the fish oil? No effect on birth control pills, he said.

           “You can trust me,” Dr. Emerson added. “I’m a doctor.”

Story by Lisa Greene, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications

Nina Paidas, MD, is congratulated by her father Charles Paidas, MD, MBA, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education at the USF College of Medicine.