Many things feel simultaneously familiar and foreign these days. The middle of May kicks off our annual graduation season, and although we have had to replace processionals across a stage with drive-through diploma pick-ups and celebratory banquets with Zoom links, that strong feeling of pride and excitement for our graduates cannot be suppressed. This year’s graduates are stepping into a world few imagined and none wanted. Uncertainty is a word used so often that we risk becoming jaded to its meaning. So we should focus on what is certain: members of the Carver College of Medicine Class of 2020 are poised to revolutionize health care. They have learned the foundations and then some, and now they will step further into a world that depends on the qualities they have already shown us: a barely tapped well of fresh ideas, deep reserves of compassion, and an avowed commitment to pursuing health and new discovery. Congratulations on your achievement and best wishes for the future!
Everything I might say here to laud and congratulate our recent graduates was said better and with typical wit and wisdom by Dr. Manish Suneja. Dr. Suneja was chosen by the students themselves to deliver this year’s commencement address. This, in fact, is the second time Dr. Suneja has been selected for this honor. And last week, although virtually rather than in person, it was clear they chose wisely. His inspirational advice, his hopes for their future, and his honesty about how to make sense of entering the world of medicine in the midst of a pandemic are as heartfelt as they are insightful. The “profound sense of disruption,” he said, that graduates might feel can be seen in a larger context. “This isn’t an interruption, but it is an intensification.” This moment offers “a head start in one of the hardest aspects of being a physician: tolerating intellectual uncertainty and ambiguity.” He reiterated what it means to be a doctor and that the title carries with it the duty of being a teacher to broadly diverse groups of people. Dr. Suneja’s abilities were not hampered by his lack of audience. As I listened, it made me wish I was one of those graduates! Please give it a watch.
Dr. Suneja’s stress on the importance of our role as teachers is especially resonant right now. It is worth noting that MDs were not the only degrees being honored at last week’s graduation. There were also six graduates awarded their Masters in Medical Education degrees. Four of those six are members of the Department of Internal Medicine. Congratulations should also be extended to our newest MME grads: Drs. Elizabeth Batchelor, Milena Gebska, Ilonka Molana de Pena, and Hanna Zembrzsuka.
Our institution’s legacy as some of the best educators in the country will only be bolstered by the skills you four have gained. We are already seeing some of the fruits of your efforts and those of your colleagues in Internal Medicine, given the high and growing rates at which our medical students are choosing this specialty. One of those students seems to be leaning our way in part because of his experience in the Sub-Internship in Internal Medicine, which Dr. Gebska has so ably directed.
Dabin Choi, the M3 mentioned above, says at the end of that piece that he is looking forward to returning to the wards. We are also eager to have our learners back alongside us on rounds, as well. As we have heard in collegiate town halls and in our own, there are many working groups considering as many factors as can be imagined. Those factors include conserving our PPE and ensuring social distancing, while balancing the needs our medical students have in order to get exposure and experience in an environment conducive to optimal learning. Just as we have done throughout the rest of University of Iowa Health Care, you can be assured that the plan we propose for our medical students will be both comprehensive and reliant on your evaluation and feedback. Similar conversations and planning went into our modified residents’ schedules, recognizing that their time on the wards would represent unusual burdens, both in patient care but in difficult conversations with families. What was remarkable about how the residents performed was watching them make sustainability of this effort a primary goal, whether it was the Wellness Committee’s inspiring gifts or the ways house staff simply checked in on each other when their spirits seemed low. Once again, residents, I want you to know that we see how you have stepped up these last months and we are grateful for the ways you have contributed to the excellence we have achieved.
We are also deep in discussion on how to manage the arrival and orientation of our new intern class. The transition on July 1 is coming soon and will take an effort on all our parts to shake off any COVID-19 fatigue we may be experiencing. We are committed to set an example for our new arrivals, who expect us at our best. They expect it of us because they are some of the best in the country themselves. I have shared some information about them previously, but some facts have since been revealed from ERAS, the national residency application system. Representing 21 programs in 14 states, our incoming class are in the 90th percentile for Step 1 and Step 2 scores. They give back, listing a mean of 6.7 distinct volunteer experiences on their applications, and they are scholars with a mean of 3.6 publications each already to their credit. We are as excited to introduce them to you as we are to introduce them to the setting for one of the most formative experiences of their lives.