Following is the text of the address by Laurie Weisberg, MD, president of the Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association, for delivery at the School of Medicine’s commencement on June 14.
June 16, 2014
It is my pleasure to address all of you, and thank you, Dean Minor, for inviting me to say a few words. I know that my remarks and the benediction that follows are the only things standing between all of us, and lunch, so I will be brief indeed. With just a few minutes to speak to you, I think it's best to make no more than two points, so here they are.
My first point comes to you from my position as president of the Stanford University Medical Center Alumni Association:
I'd like to ask you to take a few seconds and look around at your friends and colleagues surrounding you here today. Look at the people next to you, down the row, in front of you, behind you. Go ahead, I'll wait. One thing I know for sure — you share something with each other that is truly special and important. I hope you'll discover, as I did after graduating from Stanford medical school, how valuable such friendships and shared experiences are, becoming even more meaningful as the years go by. Returning to Stanford for Alumni Day, and for your class reunions, takes time and planning, but it is so worth the effort to stay connected with your remarkable classmates and your remarkable school. I'm sure you've received lots of advice about maintaining a healthy work/life balance. But I can't stress enough how important it is to make time for people and activities that keep you centered, happy, and fulfilled. I encourage all of you to stay connected with your school, with your classmates and with your fellow alumni. Your alumni association will be here to support you.
Do you want to be a good surgeon?
My second point comes to you from my position as a lover of great writing:
I'd like to read you a short passage from Dr. Abraham Verghese's novel, Cutting for Stone. You know how some phrases stay in your head, for days, weeks and months after you've read a book? Although I’m a hematologist/oncologist and not a surgeon, this particular line has stayed in my head for several years: "Do you want to be a good surgeon?" That’s the line. As soon as I heard that Dr. Verghese would be the speaker today, I knew I had to share his writing with you. It's slightly shortened for brevity, but all the words are Dr. Verghese's.
To set the scene, I'll tell you that in this chapter, one of the main characters, a young man named Marion, is a surgical intern. Marion is in the operating room with the surgical chief resident, Deepak. The patient is Mr. Walters, who was just discovered, in the midst of this operation, to have an advanced stomach cancer.
"Stop," Deepak said. He cut away the knot I had tied. "Practice doesn't make perfect if you repeat a bad practice. Let me ask you something, Marion... Do you want to be a good surgeon?" I nodded.
"Marion, I must ask you again, do you really want to be a good surgeon?"
I looked up.
"I guess I should ask what does it involve?"
"Good. You should ask. To be a good surgeon, you need to commit to being a good surgeon. It's as simple as that. You need to be meticulous in the small things, not just in the operating room, but outside. A good surgeon would want to redo this knot. You're going to tie thousands of knots in your lifetime. If you tie each one as well as humanly possible, you'll experience fewer complications. That knot, done well, may allow Mr. Walters to go home and get things in order. Done poorly, it could keep him in hospital with one complication after another till he dies. The big things in surgery depend on the little things."
For the surgeon, every operation counts, every incision counts, every single stitch counts.
Now, what did I learn from this passage in Cutting for Stone, and why did it make such a lasting impression on me? For the surgeon, every operation counts, every incision counts, every single stitch counts. Just like in baseball. The baseball season is long and every game counts, every inning counts, every single pitch counts. For the scientist, every experiment counts, every line of computer code counts, every single test tube counts. And for the internist, the pediatrician, the neurologist, every question in the history counts, every finding in the physical exam counts, every single blood test counts. Do you really want to be a good surgeon? Do you really want to be a good physician? Do you really want to be a good scientist, a good researcher?
My wish for you is that you'll be able to hold on to the dreams and the passion that brought you to medical school and brought you to graduate school, while maintaining your commitment to every little detail, every single day. Remember Deepak's words: "The big things ... depend on the little things." Thank you, Dr. Verghese, for the gift of your words, and for teaching this lesson to us all, so eloquently.
To the graduating Class of 2014, my newest fellow alumni, I offer you my hearty congratulations! Thank you.
About Stanford Medicine
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