The day has come and gone: after four variably long and short years, we have finally graduated and now bear the title of doctor. Has it really happened? Has anything changed? It doesn’t seem so, but perhaps the changes will come gradually and imperceptibly: naïveté and idealism may fade, biases and beliefs may become fixed, and we may grow forever more distant from our unglamorous pasts. Nonetheless, as a close friend and newly-minted physician put it, I hope the wonder of what we have become and what we can do for our patients and their families will never fade.
One of the administrators organizing commencement was correct in saying bluntly, “This isn’t for you, it’s for your parents.” Nonetheless, there were a few very personal, very exposed moments. Perhaps unexpectedly, one of these was the taking of the Oath. For Tulane’s ceremony, the new graduates took two oaths: the traditional Oath of Hippocrates (which some consider outdated) and a modified oath written specifically for Tulane graduates. Having some small experience with public speaking, my inclination was to face the audience I was speaking to while repeating the two oaths instead of facing the words on the paper. In doing so, I found myself making eye contact with several more experienced physicians who also were standing to reaffirm their commitments to maintaining the integrity of the profession by repeating the oaths. Some I knew very well, others hardly at all, but I felt at that moment (more than at any other part of the ceremony) that I was truly joining a brotherhood of healers, of like-minded and like-hearted people. After saying the traditional oath, the graduates remained standing to say the new Tulane oath which is more in tune with contemporary ideals and principles (e.g equality in providing care regardless of race, sexual orientation, etc.). A number of the more experienced physicians remained standing: they were Tulane medical graduates too, and although they had not spoken this new oath at their graduation ceremonies, they decided to stand and hold themselves to the principles they taught us as our attendings and mentors during the past four years. This, to me, was the greatest reminder of the special fact that I am graduate of the Tulane University School of Medicine, a member of the “Katrina” class that defied logic and fear to return to this troubled city (my hometown), and a disciple of the great men and women – the physicians and healers at Tulane – who have shaped me and my classmates into the physicians we have become. In the words of Mark Twain, “May we live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”