Family, friends, faculty, and staff gathered on May 23 in Amistad Park, near the campus of Yale School of Medicine (YSM), to celebrate the 98 new graduates of the school’s MD program. For the first time since 2019, guests were able to attend Yale’s commencement in person—and witnessed the return of the day’s traditional pomp and circumstance. This included David Kirwin, MD '22, carrying the YSM banner, leading a procession of faculty and other students draped in colorful robes and hoods— accompanied by a bagpipe player—to the university commencement ceremony on Yale’s Old Campus, and then to the YSM ceremony in Amistad Park.
The excitement and pride of the attendees in the park was audible when YSM Registrar Terri Tolson announced the name of each graduate, including several students receiving joint degrees. (Among the graduates, 12 received MD/PhD degrees, eight MD/MHS degrees, six MD/MBA degrees, two MD/JD degrees, one MD/MPH degree, and one MD/MA degree.)
In her welcoming address, Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, told the students, “today each of you becomes a physician, a member of a sacred profession. We mark the day with ritual and joy—and perhaps some humor.” Brown described how she has been contemplating the importance of humor lately, perhaps inspired by the students’ spring Fourth Year Show—a traditional parody of the YSM experience—which, Brown said, “demonstrated your resilience as you made light of the many ways the Covid pandemic challenged your medical education.”
Brown spoke of a number of benefits of humor, including being perspective setting, enabling creativity and associative thinking, allowing us to acknowledge our mistakes, and serving as a coping mechanism. Referring to the lifelong journey the graduates are embarking on, Brown told them, they will save lives, care for patients for whom there are no adequate treatment options, develop better methods to provide access to care, wrestle with difficult moral and societal issues, and make mistakes. Brown continued, “You will do all of this while striving to be the best partner or friend, nurturing a family, caring for a parent. My wish for you is that you do this with grace and humor.”
The class selecting William Flanary, MD, as their commencement speaker, Brown said, also may have led to her thoughts about humor. Flanary, an ophthalmologist, uses the alter ego “Dr. Glaucomflecken” in medical satire that is shared widely on social media and which he performs in stand-up comedy. In his remarks, Flanary quipped, “I know I am an unconventional choice as a speaker today. It may be hard to believe, but in the 222-year history of the Yale medical school, this is the first time an internet comedian ophthalmologist has given the commencement address.”
Flanary—a two-time testicular cancer survivor, first diagnosed while in medical school, who also survived cardiac arrest —had a clear message for the graduates: “Lift each other up. Lift medicine up with humor, with compassion, with humanity.”
Looking ahead to residency, Flanary told the students that there will be excellent days —when they save a life or gain a patient’s trust —and there will be “days when you make a mistake, when your confidence is shattered. Days when you feel like you should quit medicine and try to make it big on TikTok.” After reassuring the graduates that everyone has such days, Flanary asked them if they knew what is going to pull them through. He answered his rhetorical question with “each other,” continuing, “We talk a lot about showing humanity to our patients. We don’t talk enough about showing humanity to each other and to ourselves.”
Flanary then told a poignant story of someone showing humanity to him on the day he received his second cancer diagnosis. He recounted that he was on call that day, and right after learning of his diagnosis, received a page that a patient needed emergency surgery. “And I lost it. I couldn’t handle it. It was all too much,” Flanary said. “And thank goodness, one of the ophthalmology fellows, a friend of mine, saw me. I told him what had happened.” Flanary shared that his friend then did one of the nicest things anybody has ever done for him, “He took the pager from me and told me to go home, be with my family. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, because the truth is, we’re terrible at asking for help.”
Flanary encouraged the graduates to “be the one to take that pager. Be that voice for your co-residents. If you see somebody struggling, offer to help. Offer up a little humanity to each other, because most of us are too stubborn to ask for it.” He posited that this is how we will combat burnout in medicine and “create a culture of service not just to our patients, but to each other.”
His final piece of advice for the graduates, “Laugh. Laugh. Tell jokes. Have a sense of humor. Medicine is serious business, but it’s also outrageously funny.”
The ceremony ended with Associate Dean for Student Affairs John Francis, MD, PhD, leading the Class of 2022 in a recitation of the Yale Physician’s Oath 2022—each YSM class writes its own oath—followed by a moment of silence. The oath includes a “vow to leverage our privilege as physicians to advocate against laws and policies that discriminate against or compromise the health and well-being of our patients.” This echoed remarks that graduate Joshua Hyman, MD ’22, made in the opening invocation. Noting the current legal issues around abortion, he spoke passionately about his belief that physicians cannot be complacent and “have a critical role to play in standing up for patients,” adding “if we don’t, who will.” He described the YSM diploma he and his classmates were receiving as a “rare and precious ticket” and “an open invitation to have our voices heard” and serve as advocates.
Awards and Gratitude
While many student awards are bestowed on Commencement Day, they were not announced at the ceremony. Rather, they were listed in the commencement booklet because, as the booklet explained, “the Class of 2022 wishes to honor each other for their mutual achievement of becoming physicians,” reflecting the ethos of the Yale system.
In addition to celebrating the Class of 2022, Class Presidents Jessie Li, MD, and Ben Steren, MD, expressed their “immense gratitude to the school’s administration who ensured that we would all be standing up here today, which, given the events of the past two years, was no easy feat.” Li, Steren, and Brown then announced the recipients of faculty awards. In introductory remarks, Brown said that teaching and outstanding teachers “are highly valued at Yale and are the cornerstones of the foundation on which this great institution is built.”
The Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation: Recognizes and honors a faculty member who has demonstrated particular compassion and sensitivity in the delivery of care to patients.
Lisa Puglisi, MD, assistant professor of medicine (general medicine)
The Leah Lowenstein Award: Presented to the Yale School of Medicine faculty member who is the model of a medical educator whose humane teaching reaches and influences all students regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic background.
Ninani Kombo, MD, assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual science
The Alvan R. Feinstein Award: Awarded annually to a Yale School of Medicine faculty member chosen by the chairs and faculty of the clinical departments and members of the graduating class as the outstanding teacher of clinical skills.
Jeffrey Dewey, MD, MHS, assistant professor of neurology
Charles W Bohmfalk Prizes for Teaching: One prize is given to a faculty member teaching in the basic sciences, and one to a faculty member teaching in the clinical sciences. Medical students and faculty members were asked to nominate deserving teachers. A committee consisting of faculty and students reviewed the responses and made the final selections.
Basic sciences: Mark Solomon, PhD, professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry
Clinical sciences: Thilan Wijesekera, MD, MHS, assistant professor and Teaching and Learning Center associate for clinical reasoning educator
The Francis Gilman Blake Award: Presented annually to a member of the faculty of the School of Medicine designated by the graduating class as the most outstanding teacher of the medical sciences.
Sarita Soares, MD, assistant professor of medicine (general medicine)
The Betsy Winters House Staff Award: The recipients of this award are chosen by the graduating class to honor the house staff members who have made the most significant contributions to the education of medical students.
Eliza DeCroce-Movson, MD, resident, Department of Psychiatry
Jamil Syed, MD, resident, Department of Urology