What Kind of Doctors Are We Going to Be?

On May 17, 2020, students and faculty gathered via Zoom technology to celebrate Commencement for the Class of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The class chose Eli Goldberg, M.D.’20 as Class Speaker. The following are his remarks to his classmates. 


Eli Goldberg, M.D.'20
Eli Goldberg, M.D.’20

Written by Eli Goldberg, M.D.’20

Good afternoon, class of 2020!

It is an incredible honor to be coming to you live from my parents’ living room as the official halftime show performer of the 2020 Larner College of Medicine Commencement Ceremony. If you need to grab a snack, walk the dog, or reset your router, you’ve got about 5 minutes…

I’ve been combing through a thesaurus, looking for the right words to describe this surreal, thrilling, bittersweet, joyful, poignant, totally upside-down moment in our lives. I wish with all my heart that we were together in Ira Allen Chapel right now. And yet, even though this is not how we dreamed that medical school would end, I couldn’t be more inspired by the accomplishments of our class. We’ve really been on an amazing journey together.

Although our celebration is virtual, the hard work that got us here was very real. Let me give you a lightning recap:

We made it through the MCAT, AMCAS, and MMIs. We passed FoCS, A&D, NMGI, CRR, and HDRH, PCR and DIV. We learned to interpret EKGs, ABGs, CTs and MRIs. Our SPs taught us to gather an HPI and ROS, to listen at APTM and document RRR, no MRG, CTAB. We passed the USMLE! We rotated through IM, FM, the OR, L&D, the ED, and two AIs. We learned to manage CHF and COPD, AAAs and IBD, MVAs and AMS. We entered our CVs into VSAS and ERAS. And finally, we made it to MD.

To the family and friends who are watching right now, that probably sounded like a lot of gibberish. But you know how much learning and growth those acronyms represent. This has been an intense journey for you too. You’ve made huge sacrifices to support us, and through it all, you’ve looked at us and seen future doctors – even when sometimes we had trouble seeing it ourselves. We wouldn’t be wearing these gorgeous gowns today if not for you.

Many incredible faculty and staff have also been with us every step of the way. Our lecturers and TBL facilitators, advisors and preceptors, residents and attendings, librarians and deans, OMSE and COMIS, standardized patients and sim lab staff have worked tirelessly and generously to help us become the best doctors we can be.

The path to get through medical school is tough, but at least it’s predictable. Our course of training is mapped out in detail, years in advance. We progress through a rigid sequence of courses and standardized clinical experiences. It’s always clear what comes next, what to expect.

Now, we’re graduating into a moment where nothing is predictable, and no one knows quite what to expect. This year, the normal uncertainty of starting residency seems to be amplified a hundredfold. As young doctors we’ll be facing things we’ve never faced before – at the same time as the entire medical system faces something it’s never faced before. First Aid for the USMLE doesn’t have a mnemonic for starting residency during a viral pandemic. (Trust me, I checked.)

We all chose to become doctors. And now that we are, we have a deeper choice to make: what kind of doctors are we going to be? I don’t mean that in the narrow sense of specialty, but in the sense of the presence and principles that we bring to our work. Can we rise to this challenge, and the challenges to come, to be the kind of doctors that the world needs?

Every day for the past four years – as we’ve gone from memorizing the brachial plexus to assessing cardiac emergencies in the ED – I’ve been inspired, comforted, and energized by the folks in our class. And when I look at us today – at least, those of us who have our webcams on – it brings me so much hope to think about this amazing cohort of doctors heading out into the world.

Because this is what kind of doctors I see: I see doctors with integrity, persistence, and heart. I see doctors who are curious, critical, and creative. I see doctors who can stay grounded in an unstable situation, and find their moral compass when answers are unclear. I see doctors who are strong in themselves, yet humble enough to change and grow. I see doctors who are committed to serving others, and who have the passion to change lives.

In fact, we already have changed lives. So one last thing before the orchestra cuts me off: right now, think of a moment in med school when you made a difference for a patient. Remember their face, the thing you said, the way they looked at you, the feeling in your heart. Hold onto that memory, and when intern year starts to get real, remember that you are so much more than your fatigue, your mistakes, or your stress. That person, who your patient saw that day, is the kind of doctor you are.

So, class of 2020, thank you for an amazing four years together, for everything you’ve taught me, and for everything you are and will be. To borrow a line from David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech: I wish you way more than luck.

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