In his day, said George Lister, M.D. ’73, HS ’75, chair of pediatrics and keynote speaker at the White Coat Ceremony on August 15, medical students were often warned that half of their cohort may not make it through four years to graduation. Noting how times have changed, Lister told the Class of 2017 that over half of their classmates can expect to stay here even longer than four years, to exercise their industrious nature, explore novel ideas, or pursue research. Lister himself was a student, resident, and faculty member at Yale, moved to the University of Texas, and recently returned to Yale.

As a preceptor in classes, Lister said, he feels that things “click” when he is silent and the students teach each other. “Appreciate the talent and diversity around you and let your ideas be refined and revised by your classmates,” he told the incoming students. This year’s class of 100 students is evenly split between men and women who come from 47 universities and were selected from the school’s largest ever applicant pool of 4,431.

Lister described some “near misses” from his medical career as lessons in how empathy can improve patient care. Speak in plain language, he exhorted the students. “At my first clinical encounter, the patient knew I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he explained his condition to me. Imagine if the tables were reversed.” Don’t question patients’ timing or motivation. “Do not challenge the reason or basis for a patient seeking your care.” Always call the patient before the patient calls you. When Lister followed up on the condition of an infant, “the parents were astounded that a doctor who was a stranger would be interested enough to call. I learned how important it is to show that you care.”

Experiences like these, Lister explained, would help the incoming 90 M.D. and 10 M.D./Ph.D. students find their paths. “The seeds of pursuit are planted here,” said Lister, “and they have kept me excited even 40 years after graduating.” To underscore this spirit, and the curricular emphasis on scientific inquiry and critical thinking, Lister quoted the poet William Butler Yeats: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Related link: An audio recording and full text of George Lister’s address to the first-year class, and a video of scenes from the White Coat Ceremony.