By Steve Goldstein
On August 19, 2017, I offered the keynote address at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine Class of 2021 White Coat Ceremony. It was an honor to address this class, my first as dean. I had welcomed the students during orientation when they were absorbing a great deal—rules, responsibilities, schedules, safety, organization– and met with them during discussions of a book we all read recounting the rich, complex career of pediatrician– events when they were in a focused, serious mood. This day, however, the student’s were with their families and excited, bolstered by well-deserved pride, and filled with the shared mission of improving the world through the practice of medicine. Below are the thoughts I shared in my address to the class as they began their formal training as first-year medical students…
Family, friends, alumni, faculty, and staff, I welcome you to the 2017 Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony. Class of 2021, I welcome you to the beginning of your careers in medicine. I am delighted to be with you today.
As the students already know, the Class of 2021 is my first as dean– so, we begin this journey together.
You also know that I am a pediatrician, so you will forgive me if I continue to offer some practical guidance as I did last week– based on 40 years of experience since I sat where you are now:
Lesson one: no one is born an adult.
The corollary is this: no physician begins by being fully trained.
We all get better at what we do through practice.
The take home message is this (and it will be on the test):
Be patient with yourself and be kind to others.
You have worked hard to get here. I mean, seriously, you were selected from more than 11,000 applicants. Each of you is accomplished. But when you put on your white coat today, you begin on a new path to achievement.
The goal now is not to get the best grade but to become the best physician you can be. You will each do this differently and that is the beauty of our profession, it is a calling that asks us to be our best selves.
In the classroom, you will learn an incredible number of facts. You will then forget them and need to learn them again. Be patient, the information will be internalized and you will build upon it every day of your career.
In small groups, you will learn how to examine the bodies of stranger’s and to ask them about their deeply private experiences. This is not easy. Be patient, you will learn to be at ease, as you care, listen, and analyze.
When you are confused, scared, tired, or forgetful (and you will be), please know that is normal. We are here to help you and you are here to help each other. All that is actually part of the training.
You are not supposed to know it all even when you are fully trained, medicine is a team effort, you will learn and teach each other. You will learn as well from nurses, patients, hospital support staff, everyone who cares for patients with you. It has to be that way in this century: our capacity to diagnose and heal is extraordinary but it is changing so fast that some of what you learn this year will be outdated before you graduate. This is the beginning of a lifelong journey. (When I was in your seats, there was no PCR, no MRI, and no AIDS).
For more than 100 years, Stritch has been training physician-innovators who improve practice, patient outcomes, and health equity. You, too, will do this through advances in science and technology and by retaining the most powerful tools in the clinical arsenal– the ability to listen carefully and to respect the patient’s experiences.
Your white coats are a symbol of professionalism, care, and trust. Your white coats also have the Loyola patch. You represent our community and the Jesuit tradition that honors the dignity of all humans. At the Loyola hospitals we use the marketing tagline, “We also treat the human spirit.” I ask you to take that message to heart and carry it with you during your journey. It can serve as a reminder of why you are here to become a physician. You must apply that mantra as well to yourself and your coworkers.
So, as I told you a few weeks ago in the lecture hall:
It is ok to be confused.
It is ok to make mistakes.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Please take care for yourself.
Please take care for each other.
To the families and friends who are with us today, we will support your student through this journey. I have only been here for three months, but I can already tell you that I have never seen a place more committed to kindness nor more capable of improving the world than Stritch.
One last thing Class of 2021, we truly are in this journey together. Five thousand years ago, when I sat where you sit they did not have a white coat ceremony. We can remedy that situation today.
Dean Mendez, can I ask for your assistance to join my class? (Dr. Goldstein puts on his white coat).
It is an honor to begin this journey with you, Class of 2021!
Steve A. N. Goldstein MA, MD, PhD, FAAP is the Dean and Chief Diversity Officer of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. He is also a pediatric cardiologist and biophysical researcher.