An audience of several hundred met in a theater Thursday night to watch a cast of dozens dressed in plain white coats recite a speech from ancient Greece.
The spectators couldn't have been more moved.
“I am proud, but I'm a little sad, too; I don't know why,” said one - Gayle Christian of Gulfport, mother of Ana Gayle Christian, a “cast member” who raised her hand, spoke a few words and, presto, became a newly-minted medical student that night in the Belhaven Center for the Arts.
Ana Gayle's mom, along with her father Peter and cousin Claire Kelly, drove to Jackson from the Gulf Coast to see Ana Gayle participate in the 2016 White Coat Ceremony for the School of Medicine's Class of 2020.
During this annual rite, virtually every one of the 145 newly-enrolled students were present to slip on the short white coat representing their trainee status, receive their gold Humanism in Medicine pins, and repeat, as one, a Covenant for Medical Education, as well as the Greek-inspired Hippocratic Oath, wherein they pledged to “be loyal to the profession of medicine” and “exercise my art solely for the cure of my patients.”
Ana Gayle Christian recites the Oath of Hippocrates with fellow members of the School of Medicine Class of 2020.
As with Gayle, many in the crowd grappled with mixed emotions as they watched sons, daughters, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, cousins begin a demanding, physically and mentally draining four-year journey toward an M.D.
No wonder some of these relatives bore a tinge of sadness mixed with their relief and pride. They knew their students were probably sorting through their own feelings of “sheer terror,” as Dr. LouAnn Woodward put it in her remarks.
Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, was one of the speakers who saluted the future physicians, including 71 women, 74 men, 28 minority students, and 134 enrollees from medically-underserved counties.
She noted that, along with feelings of “terror,” the M1s were experiencing “excitement about what the future may hold,” while those “on stage see the future of medicine in Mississippi … and it looks pretty good.”
Among those onstage was keynote speaker Dr. Richard Gunderman, chancellor's professor of radiology, pediatrics, medical education, philosophy, liberal arts, philanthropy and medical humanities and health studies at Indiana University.
Gunderman, who has authored more than 560 articles and eight books and writes for The Atlantic and The Conversation, offered the true, and contrasting, stories of two physicians - one, a “superstar” who achieved monumental financial success as a renowned cancer doctor, but who lost it all, along with his family, because of “power and greed.”
This physician, Gunderman said, fraudulently billed hundreds of patients, over-treated the terminally ill and under-treated others for profit, in contrast to a physician named Greg, who did everything he could to make the last days of a terminally ill patient meaningful.
After asking the patient what he loved to do in life, Greg arranged a fishing trip for him and orchestrated a “tearful reconciliation” with the man's estranged daughter, Gunderman said.
The first physician forgot the most important question in medicine, Gunderman said: “Do we exist for our patients, or do the patients exist for us?
“What really counts in medicine cannot be counted.” What counts most of all is “character,” he said. “What kind of doctor are you going to be?”
DeBardeleben, president of the second-year medical school class
Also greeting the new students was Miles DeBardeleben, an M2 who compared the rush of information and work in medical school to eating a stack of 10 pancakes every day for a year.
“They never stop coming,” he said. The trick is to 1. “Flavor your pancakes,” make them “easier to eat,” by finding something “deeper in the material;” 2. “Take a break from your pancakes” by not giving up the things you love, such as family; and 3. “Remember the people who wish they were eating your pancakes,” - those who didn't make it into medical school.
Never forget what a privilege it is to eat those pancakes, DeBardeleben said.
“Welcome to UMMC. I hope you're hungry.”
OATH OF HIPPOCRATES
(as recited by UMMC students Aug. 11, 2016)
I do solemnly swear by that which I hold most sacred:
That I will be loyal to the profession of medicine and just and generous to its members;
That I will lead my life and practice my art in uprightness and honor;
That into whatsoever house I shall enter, it shall be for the good of the sick to the utmost of my power, I holding myself aloof from wrong, from corruption, from the tempting of others to vice;
That I will exercise my art solely for the cure of my patients, and will give no drug, perform no operation, for a criminal purpose even if solicited, far less suggest it;
That whatsoever I shall see or hear of the lives of men which is not fitting to be spoken, I will keep inviolably secret;
These things do I promise, and in proportion as I am faithful to this oath, my happiness and good repute be ever mine - the opposite if I shall be forsworn.