Commencement Speaker Advises New Physicians to Apply ‘Personal Touch’

Posted in GUMC Stories

MAY 18, 2014—The challenge of modern medicine is to continue to meet basic human needs and preserve timeless patient-centered values in an era of increasing technology and complexity, a leader in medical teaching told Georgetown School of Medicine (new window)’s class of 2014.

George Thibault (C’65), MD, president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, a national foundation dedicated to improving the education of health professionals, told the 198 medical school graduates at their May 18 commencement ceremony, held at Warner Theatre, that their Georgetown formation has fully prepared them to face this professional challenge.

“You have … been taught to listen to your patients, to elicit and understand their preferences and to address their personal needs and those of their families and the communities in which they live,” Thibault said.  “You will give them the personal touch, the care and the intimacy that science and technology cannot replace … because you have been educated at Georgetown, in the Jesuit tradition that cares for both the body and the soul.”

‘A Man for Others’

Thibault was conferred an honorary Doctor of Science degree, the University’s highest honor.  In reading the citation, Howard J. Federoff, MD, PhD (new window), executive vice president of health sciences and executive dean of the School of Medicine, lauded Thibault, who was his residency director at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Dr. Thibault embodies Georgetown University’s ideal of a man for others, as well as the School of Medicine’s mission of preparing morally reflective health care leaders and scholars who strive to improve the health and well-being of all people,” Federoff said.

Thibault also spoke of his father, who often served as the only doctor in a small town in upstate New York.

“Dad never turned anyone away,” he said. “Patients were charged on a sliding scale. I still have some of his billing cards, and many bills were zero … we were never wealthy but compared with the rest of the town we were comfortable. I never felt my father worried about the business side of medicine.”

He said that his father, who died at age 48 during Thibault’s freshman year at Georgetown, would have welcomed all the technological advances in the past 50 years ago, but that patients today “… still want someone who knows them, someone who listens to them, someone who cares…”

‘Ready to Be Set Free in the World’

Dean for Medical Education Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, MBA (new window), presented the 198 graduates, including one dual MD/MPH candidate and one MD/MBA candidate, and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia, PhD (new window), conferred the degrees.

DeGioia reminded M’14 class of their responsibility to “bring your personal gifts to bear on the world in a way that serves and enriches it, and also to embrace and support the gifts of others.”

Commencement, he said, is truly the beginning for these graduates as they set out on their professional paths.

“This is the moment that we confirm that your talents, your gifts, your deepest motivations are, in the words of [poet and essayist] Lewis Hyde, ready to be set free in the world,” DeGioia said.

A Solemn Oath

Donald Knowlan, MD (new window), professor emeritus of medicine, then administered the Hippocratic oath to the new physicians.

Graduate Jenny Van Kirk (M’14), MD, who will continue her training in internal medicine at Duke University, said her Georgetown education has helped shape her values as a physician and a person.

“As I move on to my future training, I’ll always credit Georgetown for shaping me, not only as a physician, but as a person. Going forward, I intend to practice medicine in the spirit of cura personalis [care of the whole person] with an emphasis on the patient and their needs on all levels,” Van Kirk said. 

“Although I will likely have many different training experiences at various institutions in the future, I will always be a Georgetown doctor.”

Click here (new window) to see the video of the 2014 GUSOM Commencement ceremony. 

By Lauren Wolkoff
GUMC Communications