Dean Laurie H. Glimcher Emphasizes Patient-Centricity in Commencement Remarks
Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, addressed the Weill Cornell Medical College Class of 2012 during commencement May 31 at Carnegie Hall. The following are her remarks.
|Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College addresses the Medical College Class of 2012 during the 2012 Commencement Exercises May 31 at Carnegie Hall
Photo: Amelia Panico
Thank you, David [President Skorton], and good afternoon.
I am thrilled to be with you here today. I'd like to welcome all of you and to offer thanks to our wonderful Weill Cornell faculty, who have done such a splendid job in preparing these young physicians for the careers ahead of them.
As the new dean of Weill Cornell, I have spent my first five months on a steep learning curve.
It's been exhilarating. And, to be honest, a little daunting. But as my family says to me, "If it were easy, everyone could do it."
That's a message I've taken to heart. And you should, too.
You have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices to have earned your place here today. With the support of your families and friends, you have done what few people in the world can do.
It's not easy. And not everyone can do it. But you did. And for that, you should be very proud. I congratulate you. You are the future of medicine.
I wish I could stand here today and tell you what that future will look like. As a lifelong physician and scientist, the daughter of a physician and the mother of physicians, I know a lot of things. But with advances in medicine happening so quickly, the discovery cycles compressing so tightly and the increasingly influential role of technology in everything we do, I can only imagine what the world will look like 10, 20, 50 years from now.
That's the world in which you will live and work and practice. It's exhilarating. And more than just a little bit daunting. But if we can't know for certain what the future will look like in detail, what I do know is this:
As graduates of Weill Cornell, you are among the best prepared in the world to take on whatever the future holds. You are smart and skilled and capable. You are curious and open-minded. You are good communicators and colleagues. And you have global opportunities and a worldview that many others don't.
Most important is that embedded in all the work you have done while studying here is this essential thread: The patient is at the center of everything you do. This commitment to patient-centricity will be your compass, your guide, your reference point, as medicine evolves, becomes more complex, more technology-driven, and more demanding. It will be your anchor in troubled seas.
And it is relevant no matter what discipline you pursue, including a research path. In fact, it is even more important to remember this if you go into research because you may find yourself feeling disconnected from the bedside, unable to see for yourself the impact of your work.
Remind yourself — push yourself — to keep the patient at the center of everything you do. This commitment will focus your efforts, accelerate your work and serve as a beacon if you find yourself off track — no matter what track you pursue. And because there is no roadmap to the future, a beacon is a very good thing to have.
Remember that medicine is a journey of discovery. It changes every day. It may take you in directions you never expected to go. And you don't have to do scientific research as an occupation to be a discoverer. Almost every great advance in medicine began with an observation by a curious, committed and aware physician who let the patient and their condition speak to them, and who knew how to listen.
You are the next generation of discoverers. It is your role — indeed your obligation — to observe and listen to your patients, and to seek new ways of doing things, new cures, new processes, new paradigms of care.
It is a journey that by nature is full of risks. But don't be afraid. Discovery doesn't come from complacency. As Tennyson wrote in his poem "Ulysses": "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." What he meant was that life is a journey, a voyage of discovery, and that we should never be afraid of what that journey may bring.
There's a great quote from the 19th century Scottish author Samuel Smiles that captures the risk: "We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery."
There's no question that discovery can be a lonely pursuit sometimes. Consider this reference from a more a recent century. While it may seem hard to believe now, the Beach Boys were once considered ahead of their time in popular music. Their founder, the singer-songwriter Brian Wilson, was heralded far and wide for his groundbreaking work in harmonies and electronic synthesis. His genius may not have been fully appreciated at the time, but looking back now, it is clear that there was a lot more going on behind his music than catchy ditties about sun, sand and surf.
Interestingly, in the middle of his most critically acclaimed work, he wrote a song about how difficult — and solitary — it is to be an innovator. Its title: "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." He sang:
"Every time I get the inspiration to go change things around/
No one wants to help me look for places where new things might be found."
Exhilarating? Yes. Daunting? For sure.
But no matter how difficult the struggle, how risky the pursuit and how lonely the path, always go back to your beacon: The patient is at the center of everything you do, no matter what it is you choose to do.
Let me illustrate the point with this story. It's about a Frenchman named Joseph Meister. In July of 1885, when he was 9-years-old, he was walking to school in his small village in Alsace when he was attacked and bitten 14 times by a rabid dog.
Now in 1885, as you can imagine, rabies was a death sentence. But Joseph Meister's mother had heard about a man in Paris who thought he could cure rabies, although his treatment had never been tested on a human being. Two days after the attack, Joseph Meister and his mother arrived at a small house on Rue d'Ulm in Paris, and when the door was opened, she fell to her knees, begging the man who lived there to save her son.
The man, of course, was Louis Pasteur. He was not a physician. He was a noted chemist. But in those days the discipline you studied didn't lock you into a career. And so, at 8 p.m. on July 6, 1885, Pasteur injected Joseph Meister with a preparation of a rabies-infected rabbit spinal cord that had been dried for 15 days. He repeated the procedure 12 more times over the next 10 days.
Joseph Meister did not develop rabies. And the people of Paris, who had lived for centuries in terror of being bitten by one of the rabid dogs that roamed the streets of the city, hailed Pasteur's achievement as one of the great medical triumphs of the century.
Pasteur took a great risk in treating Joseph Meister with an experimental vaccine. Had Joseph Meister died, Pasteur's dream of making medicine a science-based discipline might well have died with him.
The reason I like this story so much is that it captures the essence of what I've learned in my decades as a scientist — that if you're afraid of making mistakes, you won't get very far. Mistakes aren't just a mechanism of learning — they're the wellspring of creativity. If you're afraid of making mistakes, if you take the comfortable route rather than risk error, you aren't being brave enough, and you're on the road to mediocrity. Excellence is the result of passion, preparation, persistence, and imagination — but it also requires daring.
And as long as you keep the patient at the center of everything you do, you cannot be drawn off course.
There's a touching postscript to this story. Louis Pasteur became the most famous and honored scientist of his generation. The French government built an institute in Paris so he could have the equipment and money to continue his research. The Institut Pasteur is still a great center of biomedical research: The virus that causes AIDS was isolated there in the 1980s. Louis Pasteur's body lies beneath the Institut Pasteur in a spectacular vault covered in depictions of his accomplishments in Byzantine mosaics.
Joseph Meister didn't waste the second chance Pasteur gave him — and, in fact, lived a life that honored the scientist. Meister fought heroically with the French Army in World War I, and after the war he became a gatekeeper — at the Institut Pasteur. On June 16, 1940 — almost 55 years to the day after he made medical history — when the invading Nazi soldiers tried to force him to open the gate to Pasteur's tomb, Joseph Meister took his World War I service revolver and shot himself, in a final gesture of gratitude to the man who had saved his life.
When you leave Weill Cornell, you will go in many different directions. The match list for this class is impressive. As you go deeper into areas of specialty, and especially as new technology comes on line, you may find that your course tends to take you farther away from the patient.
Let me linger a little on technology. Because those of you in this room today are part of a generation that has grown up amid an explosion of technology. You have embraced it, harnessed it, mastered it. To you, unlike many of us in this room, technology is intuitive.
In the last few minutes, while we have been here, technology has probably already taken another quantum leap forward. And it will continue to do so as you move into your careers.
Some experts suggest that we won't experience 200 years of progress in the 21st century — which is the typical rate of progress for the last few centuries — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress at today's rate.
Exhilarating? Yes. Daunting? You bet.
The point is that as future medical professionals, it's as important for you to be aware of technology's challenges as you are of its advantages. Remember, technology is a tool. A great tool, to be sure. Use it, leverage it, make it work for you. But don't become a slave to it. And don't let it get in between you and patients.
Put the patient at the center of everything you do.
Let me leave you today with an Arabic proverb that I think makes this point more eloquently that I can. It says: "He who has health, has hope. And he who has hope, has everything."
It's an important message as you continue on in your careers. It's a reminder that ultimately you are treating people, not disease. And that as agents of good health, you are also agents of hope. Congratulations again. We are so proud of your accomplishments. I wish you much success and I look forward to talking with you after the ceremony. Tell me about your hopes and dreams, because you are the future, and your voyage of discovery begins today.