Francis Mtuke, M.D., is a 2022 graduate of the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine.
On Sunday, March 22, 2022 Dr. Mtuke delivered the student address at the Larner College of Medicine Commencement Ceremony. It was the second time he’s given a commencement address; the first time was at his graduation from Texas A&M University in 2017. Dr. Mtuke will be starting his anesthesiology residency program at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington in June.
First, allow me to thank Deans Page and Zehle for this wonderful opportunity and let me start by expressing my deepest gratitude for the privilege of addressing this graduating class—the Larner College of Medicine Class of 2022.
Recently, I was eating lunch with a dear friend of mine, and when delivering this speech came up, I explained how nervous I was at the prospect of speaking in front of such a large conglomerate of people. She explained to me that what I was going through was called glossophobia, also known as the fear of public speaking. She informed me that 74 percent of people suffer from this and that I should have nothing to worry about. Seeing as how she is a very intelligent person and someone who has displayed extreme confidence, I asked her how I could combat these nerves and join that unfazed 26 percent. She said to me: “Don’t try to be too witty, don’t try to be too intellectual, and don’t try to be too charming. So, if you act anything like you normally do, you will be just fine.”
I tell you all that story just in case I get nervous or emotional on stage, asking that you bear with me.
By the looks on some of your faces and the cheeky smiles some of you are struggling to hold in, I can tell that greeting is one that may feel a bit foreign to you. Truth be told, even after twenty years as a “Texan” it still feels a bit foreign to me too, almost as foreign as being referred to as a doctor.
One would think that after years of classes like Organic Chemistry and Attacks and Defenses, exams like the MCAT and Step 1, and countless interviews—both fresh off red-eye flights and from the comfort of our bedroom desk chairs—the term “I’m the doctor” would be more instinctive.
For me however, that has not been the case.
Maybe it is because 22 years ago my mom, Tapuwa, left our humble Zimbabwean origins behind—with me shortly following—in favor of the uncertainty that awaited us nearly 10,000 miles away. Mom, you came to this country and ran so that I could pick up the baton and soar, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Maybe it is because I still remember that feeling in the pit of my stomach when I passed Block 2 of FoCS [Foundations of Clinical Science] by a single point nearly four years ago. Maybe it’s because now I stand as one of the mere 2.6 percent of anesthesiologists that are Black males. I just can’t seem to shake the feeling that I am not supposed to be here. Yet here I am, because the Larner College of Medicine took a chance on me.
And thankfully, my story is not unique.
In this very room sit 113 of the finest doctors that I have had the privilege of meeting. Among you are Afghanistan war veterans, mothers (old and new), fitness instructors, authors, chefs, musicians, and athletes. Among you sit those of Lebanese, Indian, Taiwanese, Mexican, Chinese, Irish, Turkish, Israeli, and Nigerian origin. Among you sit 113 lifelong Larners that UVM took a chance on and 113 individuals that took a chance on UVM.
Four years of taking chances at UVM has given us a classroom experience that is second to none.
While world-class professors like Dr. Bill Raszka—and his notorious “A & C but not B” question style—have taught us to challenge ourselves past the point of saturation, to maintain confidence in our preparation, and to withhold nothing when approaching our goals. Other instructors, like Dr. Rebecca Wilcox—whose pre-exam rally cries I still sometimes replay while brushing my teeth in the morning—have taught us to infuse patience, kindness, and tender compassion that is trademark to UVM, into every task that we get to take on.
Four years of taking chances at UVM have provided us with a cultural experience beyond what we could have imagined.
Relationships formed on the intramural soccer pitch or while pulling late nights in the Dana Library spawned cook-offs between me, an African, and my Indian classmate, Prasanna, after which we served Chinese food to 30 of our closest American friends. Those same relationships spawned cookouts with my Irish classmate John, karaoke sing-offs in New Orleans with my Vietnamese classmate PJ, and visits to classmates all over the country from Los Angeles, to Atlanta, to Tennessee.
“Four years of taking a chance on UVM taught us to be selfless in service, to give humbly and generously, and to rally around our fellows in need.” – Francis Mtuke, M.D.’22Tweet
Four years of taking a chance on UVM taught us to be selfless in service, to give humbly and generously, and to rally around our fellows in need.
Never was it more apparent to me the type of student that UVM attracts than when gathered with my classmates, celebrating the life of our brother and classmate Collins Oguejiofor.
Four years have seen us all grow, develop, and attain the best of what the UVM experience has to offer, and for this I, like you all, am eternally grateful.
And now we find ourselves at the finish line. But in our case, the finish line is just the starting spot.
Because of the chance we took, thousands of patients—thousands of war veterans, mothers, fitness instructors, authors, chefs, musicians, athletes, and so many more—will have chances taken on them. Chances taken by doctors who not only got expert instruction on patient care by Larner faculty but were also given the opportunity to hone in on the intangibles of being a physician, namely, compassion, empathy, and dedication to service.
To the deans, the faculty, the standardized patients, the administrators, the custodial staff, and to every single person who took part in this journey, we thank you.
To the parents, the siblings, the friends near and far, we apologize for our sporadic absences, and we thank you for your support and patience in all forms.
To our future patients, get ready. We are coming. We are the doctors.
“We are coming. We are the doctors.” – Francis Mtuke, M.D.’22Tweet
Watch the Commencement speech by Dr. Mutke above.