As Yale’s newest class of physicians celebrated their accomplishments at the Commencement Ceremony on May 19, an alumnus who sat in their seats 11 years ago asked them to consider the vital work ahead of them. “No prior generation of physicians in modern history,” graduation speaker Vivek Murthy, M.D. ’03, M.B.A. ’03 told the bicentennial class of 100 graduates in Amistad Park, “has entered the profession faced with the breadth and depth of challenges that you face.”
Though groundbreaking progress in technology and policy occurs every day, said Murthy, a hospitalist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, “too many patients go without good care because access is difficult and costs are still too high.” In addition, such public health challenges as tobacco-related illness, disparities in care, and obesity have led to “an explosion of chronic disease and an extension of human suffering.”
Murthy, President Obama’s nominee to become U.S. Surgeon General, said that physicians must have “imagination and integrity” to envision new solutions to these challenges, and to create “a 21st-century model of health,” one based on extensive community partnership.
“Imagine this—a nation where prevention and health promotion are not just buzzwords but the backbone and blueprint of our communities. Imagine a country where all parts of our communities, not just our hospitals and our clinics play a role in creating better health,” Murthy said. “Imagine yourselves, the physicians of the future, working side by side with faith-based leaders, business leaders, teachers, policy makers, and patients as partners to deliver top notch medical care while working to address the social determinants of health in your community. This is the future that we can build together.
“I believe that you can be these physicians,” Murthy told the Class of 2014. “For the sake of the nation, I believe that you must be.”
Murthy has long been at work developing creative solutions to health care challenges. In 2009, Murthy founded Doctors for America, a grassroots organization of 16,000 physicians and medical students with the goal of improving access to affordable health care. He is also the founder of VISIONS Worldwide, a nonprofit focused on HIV/AIDS prevention in India, and TrialNetworks, which helps researchers collaborate on clinical trials to bring new cures to patient bedsides more quickly.
The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet have endorsed his nomination as Surgeon General. If approved, Murthy would be the first alumnus from the School of Medicine to hold the post. But his support of background checks during gun purchases has brought him under fire from the National Rifle Association and imperiled his nomination. At Commencement, many graduates, faculty, and family members supported his nomination by wearing blue stickers that read, “Yale stands with Vivek.”
At the end of his speech, the Class of 2014 again stood with Vivek as the new graduates rose to give him a standing ovation.
Early in the ceremony awards for faculty and house staff were announced, including three for Margaret J. Bia, M.D., FW ’78, professor of medicine. Bia, who is stepping down as head of the clinical skills teaching program, received the Leah M. Lowenstein Award as a model of humane teaching; the Francis Gilman Blake Award, given to the teacher designated by the graduating class as the most outstanding teacher of medical sciences; and the Dean’s Award, given rarely and only to faculty who have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to students.
The Charles W. Bohmfalk Prizes for outstanding teaching went to Susan J. Baserga, M.D. ’88, Ph.D. ’88, professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, of genetics, and of therapeutic radiology, for basic science teaching, and to Karen Santucci, M.D., professor and section chief of pediatric emergency medicine, for teaching of clinical science. The Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, which honors the faculty member who demonstrates compassion and sensitivity in interactions with patients, went to Stephen R. Holt, M.D., assistant professor of medicine. The Betsy Winters House Staff Award, presented to the house staff member who has contributed to the education of medical students, went to Michael Sullivan, M.D. The Alvan R. Feinstein Award, for the faculty member chosen by a committee of chairs of clinical departments, associate chairs, and students as the outstanding teacher of clinical skills, went to Matthew R. Grossman, M.D., HS ’06.