2020 Graduation Message from the Chair
A warm welcome and heart felt congratulations to our graduates and especially to their families, who lent their loved ones to us as they undertook the arduous journey to become highly trained surgical specialists.
As this is my last graduation as your Chair, I want to point out what an honor and a privilege it has been to lead this department over the last 17 years. I want to thank the faculty for their excellence as clinicians, scholars, and educators. They represent the finest of medicine, not only in America, but worldwide. I want to thank the residents and fellows for their intelligence, eagerness to learn, extraordinary dedication, and an ability to tolerate a work schedule which would debilitate lesser mortals. Based upon today’s splendid research presentations, I predict a brilliant future for each and every one of you.
I want to thank our staff who make everything we do possible. Simply put, we have the best staff in all of Stanford University. Together, our faculty, trainees and staff enjoy a warm and collegial culture which emphasizes innovation. Together, we deliver exceptionally high quality patient care and contribute some of our era’s most creative and impactful research discoveries.
I would like to congratulate our department for the exemplary way we responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our field has unique vulnerabilities. Working tirelessly to design ways we could deliver safe and effective care, we navigated the darkest days of the pandemic and have emerged with practices and procedures in place which enable us to safely resume caring for the patients we serve.
Our faculty, residents/fellows, and basic scientists swung into actions with innumerable COVID-19 related research projects. It is most impressive that over 3 short months our department has already published 15 papers on COVID-19 topics with a number more in the pipeline. Many of these have been highly influential and helped to establish rational policies adopted by national and international specialty organizations.
We all recognize that coronavirus will bring about many long term changes – for example, in medicine, the broad applicability of telehealth. Never has the public at large voiced such appreciation for the helping professions. Hopefully, this will inspire a generation of young people to pursue health professions.
At Stanford, where the medical school sometimes feels a bit separate from the rest of the university, even though we have the largest faculty, by far the most extramural research grants, and even the most Nobel prize winners. We are now very much front and center in the minds and hearts of the entire Stanford community. Let’s enjoy it while the sun shines on us – it won’t last forever!
As Ambrose Bierce opined in his 1881 Devil’s Dictionary : “The definition of a Physician: One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well.”
Black Lives Matter
Today, June 19, is Juneteenth. Originated in 1866, 3 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. It is also fittingly known as Freedom Day or Liberation Day. It has special meaning this year. The wide availability of video recording has brought to national consciousness the brutality of some police against minorities – which has lurked in the shadows generations – and stimulated a much needed protest movement.
I would like to share a few personal reflections about American tradition of peaceful citizen protest. I regret that I was too young to have participated in the civil rights movement of the 1950s to 1960s which led to laws that increased integration of American schools and adopted the voting rights act. While I missed this period of activism, I have always supported peaceful protest as a means of moving society forward.
I grew up marching to end the Vietnam war. With hair down nearly to my waist, wearing shaggy bell bottoms festooned with flower stencils, I marched with a peace sign in hand singing over and over “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” I was among the millions of youth in American who helped to bring the Vietnam war to an end.
Today we are faced with a crisis which cries out for a similar movement – and it may have just gotten underway. The lessons of the past are that this movement, if it resists efforts to suppress it, will bring about much needed accountability among law enforcement.
I cannot say that I really know what it feels likely to be the victim of discrimination, but I have had inclinings of how it feels. As one of the few Jews growing up in a small Maine town, I experienced anti-semitism up close and personal. But unlike African American youths, I was never was in heightened danger of suffering violence at the hands of the local police.
Oppression and slavery have lasting effects on each society victimized by it. Each spring, Jews around the world celebrate Passover. By annually retelling the 3 millennium old story of liberation from slavery in Egypt, we educate our children about the evils of discrimination and oppression.
It is a mere 156 years since the events which inspired Juneteenth occurred. The shadow cast by enslavement is long and shades American culture to this day.
The Black Lives Matter Movement Mission is: “To bring justice, healing, and freedom to Black people across the globe.” I pose the challenge how can we at Stanford help? Passive criticism and tepid disapproval is not enough to counter oppression or oppose tyranny. As Eldridge Cleaver said: “if you not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” We need to become activists.
I am proud of the work we are doing in Stanford OHNS so far:
- Uche Megwalu studying disparities of care among head & neck cancer suffers
- Peter Koltai’s created a global health partnership with the University of Zimbabwe
- We recruit and fund URM medical students to rotate on our service
But we need to do more – we need to do much more.
It starts with being vigilant about recognizing our own biases, especially those which we are not conscious of. Barak Obama tells the story which illustrates the issue well: “There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me—at least before I was a senator."
First and foremost it is about people. It begins with recruiting diverse students and mentoring them for career success to become role models. We also need to recruit a more diverse faculty, especially to leadership positions. This should be a primary goal.
We need to use that Stanford spirit of initiative and innovation to explore creative ideas in which we can contribute to building a more safe and equitable nation.
We should live by the credo that: “If there is not freedom for all of us, there is not true freedom for any of us.” We need step forward and do our part in bringing about change.