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“Follow your gut,” speaker tells graduates

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2016 - Spring


Anthony Fauci, M.D., encouraged the 88 members of the Class of 2016 to follow their instincts, even if it means challenging the conventional wisdom and the advice of colleagues and mentors. In his Commencement address, Fauci described the path that led him to a career in infectious diseases and leadership of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Fauci had completed a residency in internal medicine in 1968, followed by an infectious diseases fellowship at NIAID. He was in the early stages of a successful career studying immune-mediated diseases when a report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in 1981 described a strange array of symptoms affecting a group of gay men. He felt compelled to study this mysterious disease. While his friends, colleagues, and mentors advised him against pursuing what they called “a self-limited curiosity,” he ignored their advice. That choice informed the trajectory of his career, launching him into the field of infectious disease. “Life is not lived, nor careers formed, in a vacuum,” he said.

Fauci accepted a fellowship at the NIH, even though he feared he was entering a disappearing subfield of medicine. Starting in the 1960s, emphasis had begun to shift from infectious disease to chronic disease. By 1980, many doctors believed that the war against infectious diseases had been won. The victory was short-lived: Shortly after Fauci began at the NIH, the HIV/AIDs epidemic gripped the United States. As such pathogens as Ebola and Zika emerge and reemerge, and researchers discover new ones, Fauci told the graduates, continual learning is integral to any field of medicine. “The scope of what we need to learn is like a giant mosaic, and this giant mosaic is eternally unfinished.” Doctors must keep up with scientific advancements, all the while caring for patients. “You will be participating in the implementation of these techniques while holding on for dear life. … Rest assured that being bored will not be a problem for you.”

He closed by reminding the graduates of the foundation of medicine—a thirst for knowledge and respect for the patient. He quoted Francis W. Peabody, a 19th century physician known for his research on polio and typhoid, by saying, “One of the essential qualities of the physician is an interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”

After his speech, the students in their black and green graduation garb anxiously awaited the moment they've been working toward—some for as long as eight years—the awarding of their medical degrees.

Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, encouraged the graduates to thank their parents, spouses, and significant others for their support. He also reminded them of the gravity of their future profession. “People have many needs, but most acknowledge that the most important is their health. You will be responsible for preserving it.”

Class Presidents Xiaoyou Mona Guo and Joel David Winer presented the class gift, a financial award of $2,276 to be set aside as financial aid for incoming medical students.

Early in the ceremony, faculty and residents received teaching awards, based on recommendations from students. Alfred I. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine (hematology), received the Charles W. Bohmfalk Award for Teaching in basic science. Jaideep Talwalkar, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and of pediatrics, received the Bohmfalk award for teaching clinic science. Karen J. Jubanyik, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, received the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, which is supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. Mark B. Russi, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine (occupational medicine) and of epidemiology (environmental health) received the Leah M. Lowenstein Award, presented by the Office for Women in Medicine to a faculty member whose humane teaching influences students regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic background. Anthony W. Kim, M.D., associate professor of surgery (thoracic surgery) and of nursing, received the Francis Gilman Blake Award, for the most outstanding teacher of medical science. Kimberly W. Keefe, M.D., a resident in obstetrics and gynecology, received the Betsy Winters House Staff Award, given to the member of the house staff designated by the graduating class as having made the most significant contribution to their education. Christopher L. Moore, M.D., associate professor of emergency medicine, received the Alvan R. Feinstein Award, given to the outstanding teacher of clinical skills as determined by a committee of chairs of clinical departments, associate chairs, and students.