Many of us in the University of Vermont College of Medicine Class of 2016 probably still vividly remember applying to medical school. Some of us were afraid to attempt to apply one more time; others were uncertain if mastering a high volume of information was possible. Some were anxious about choosing a demanding specialty, as it could potentially change the dynamics of a peaceful family life. However, the dream that initially inspired us to pursue medicine gave us the strength and confidence necessary to apply and succeed in medical school. Despite long study hours, coffee cart breaks, snow driving, busy clerkship rotations and interviews all over the country, we are here on the cusp of graduation.
We are graduating because our dream to become a doctor was powerful. Some of us were inspired by a person (maybe a loved one), a life circumstance, a challenge, or a dream that equipped us to fight relentlessly to become the best doctors we can be. The dream to become a doctor was so strong that some of us came from foreign countries, learned a new language, and adapted to living in an unknown country. Others traveled from the other side of the American continent, leaving family and sunshine in exchange for long study hours and snow storms. We gained expertise in driving in the snow without spilling a drop of coffee, and we still arrived to the floor before our residents! Others abandoned successful careers or had to adjust their responsibilities as parents.
By sharing what brought me to pursue medicine, I hope you may also remember what drew you to medical school. Because regardless of where you came from, your unique life journey will help to shape the doctor you will become.
I grew up in a Peru ruled by terrorism and chaos. My willingness to become a doctor started as a scared first grader locked inside the school library. I still remember peeking through the school library window and seeing a police team specialized in deactivating explosives approach the mysterious backpack someone had left laying at the base of the school’s flagpole. Everyone thought it could be a bomb sent by Shining Path, the main terrorist movement in Peru at the time. Fortunately, it was not. The police found textbooks and notebooks inside. It turns out a student had forgotten the backpack, and everyone in school was relieved. However, after this incident, I understood that the poverty that affected native Peruvians in rural areas fueled such actions. Eventually, peace returned to my country. As an adult, I was inspired to work in the native indigenous community of “Marcaconga” in Cusco, Peru. I was able to talk to the inhabitants who were still overcoming the sequelae of those years of terrorism. Despite challenges, fellow indigenous Peruvians carried themselves with dignity. They inspired me to become a doctor who would one day work and thrive in the Peruvian Andes.
Although our experiences have been different, we all have that moment that inspired us to become doctors. Remembering this will help us recognize that besides being doctors, we are human beings with limitations. By staying true to that inspiration, we will continue to acknowledge that we do not have all the medical knowledge or answers for our patients. This is when we can turn to our mentors to seek advice and discuss the best course of actions for our patients. Finally, a humble spirit will allow us to take off our white coats, roll up our sleeves, and sit next to our patients to accompany them and acknowledge the dignity, respect, and human comfort our patients need.
We are living in exciting times. We are happy that we landed the residency of our dreams, yet we are anxious about taking care of the lives that will be placed on our hands. However, let’s consider that as a member of The University of Vermont College of Medicine’s Class of 2016, we are gifted and well-equipped to care for our patients.
I want to congratulate you, my fellow classmates, as we start this journey of demonstrating that we are great doctors and human beings.
The University of Vermont College of Medicine Class of 2016 graduates May 22, 2016. See more information about the Commencement ceremony.