On an exceptionally warm spring day under white tents on the HMS Quad, the members of the School’s Class of 2013 were showered with waves of applause, and oohs of tenderness for the children some held, as they accepted their crimson hoods. Before the graduates switched the tassels on their mortarboards from left to right, however, the day’s speakers dispensed advice about the profession they were about to join.
“Put your patients first,” said Harvey Fineberg ’71, president of the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. “If you do, everything else will fall into place.”
Fineberg warned the graduates that putting patients first wouldn’t always be easy. Now more than ever, he said, patients come to doctors armed with research and questions. Information and education, however, may not be enough to prepare new doctors for those questions. Although precision medicine—the ability to better match treatments to individuals—will no doubt improve care, the practice of medicine requires more than that, Fineberg told the graduates.
“No matter how molecularly dissected your patient is, no matter how much information you have to offer, keep the whole patient before you,” he said.
Class of 2013 members Nina Vasan and Deep Jayendrakumar Shah also addressed those assembled. Shah’s speech in particular reflected Fineberg’s core message. In telling the story of how, as an HMS student, he had unexpectedly become fearful of taking risks, Shah wondered aloud why students like himself—the cream of a hyperachieving crop—had become risk averse. He then told of an important lesson he learned when one of his mentors described what it takes to be an advocate for your patients.
It takes “the guts to challenge a broken system, and the courage to risk it all for a patient whom everyone else has given up on.… We must take these same risks, not for the sake of being mavericks, but because our profession demands that we always do right by our patients.”