'Our communities, our commonwealth, our nation and our world need you.'

Remarks by Chancellor Michael F. Collins at Commencement, Sunday, June 2, 2013

June 02, 2013

Today’s commencement ceremony provides a fitting end to another outstanding year on our campus. We continue to attract exceptional and dedicated students. We are committed to affirming our leadership position in American academic medicine. This year we were recognized for outstanding educational programs having received full accreditation from both the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; a mighty accomplishment, indeed!

Our faculty and students continue to demonstrate their brilliance, compassion and innovation as they receive recognition for their scholarly contributions. Could I ask the members of our faculty who are present today to rise and be recognized.

At Mass Biologics of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, we passed an important milestone of having produced more than 100 million doses of medicine and have embarked on an even more ambitious future.

Our colleagues at Commonwealth Medicine continue to play a pivotal role in the care of special populations as they work to continue to maximize resources to care for those most in need.

We are proud of the role our school played in the selection of an alumnus to lead our health care system and I am pleased to welcome, Dr. Eric Dickson, as the newly appointed chief executive officer of our clinical partner.

While on campus today, I hope that many of you will have a chance to visit our recently opened education and research facility, the Albert Sherman Center. Through the visionary leadership of our governor, the board of trustees, university administration, and our faculty and staff, we now have the finest education and research complex found at any medical school in America.

Further, we maintain fidelity to our mission, as this year we ranked ninth in the nation as we continue to graduate great numbers of students who choose to pursue primary care.

Our state’s only public academic health sciences center is flourishing and increasing its renown, both here at home and around the globe. We continue our vital mission to educate scientists and health care practitioners; care for those who are most in need; push to the forefront of innovation and scientific discovery; and serve communities that are close to home and continents away.

Just over a month ago, when two explosions shattered the ecstasy of the finish line at the Boston Marathon, the heroic actions of those who provided care at the scene and in the hospitals demonstrated the best of academic medicine. Their collective commitment and response provide a powerful message to the next generation of caregivers-in-training and, at the same time, should serve as a teaching moment for policy makers, elected officials, and the public at large.

Let us pause for a moment to remember those affected by the events of Marathon Monday.

The fact that Boston’s heroic first responders stepped forward almost instinctively to lead and perform is no surprise to those of us in academic medicine. Emergency preparedness and response have been integrated into medical training to a degree unimaginable before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Likewise, cities and towns have begun to realize that preparation for mass casualty events is as much a part of government as protecting the water supply and maintaining good roads.

Like the patriots we celebrate on Marathon Monday, our society draws on a rich history of communal cooperation dating back to the bucket brigade and barn-raising. The tremendous concentration of voluntary health care resources assembled at the Marathon finish line undoubtedly played a key role as so many well-prepared health care professionals responded instantly.

The response was so impressive and effective, in fact, that the reasons just cited—good disaster drills, good neighbors, good government and good luck—run the risk of masking the real reason that so few died. For that, we have to thank the investments made over many decades in our medical schools and teaching hospitals, which are now threatened, even as the shock that occurred at the Marathon finish line reminds us of the critical nature and vital success of those investments.

How those of us in the health care professions and those who teach our successors respond to these external challenges will say much to the next generation of caregivers about what sort of profession we will occupy and whether, should the unimaginable happen again, we will have the tools and resources necessary to respond effectively.

This is the values construct that has until very recently stood firm: medical schools and teaching hospitals are supported in their broad mission to educate and train caregivers, care for the ill and injured, and conduct research that improves the ability to do those things. These are high expectations. Ours is a high calling.

Our educational programs; residency and fellowship training; research initiatives; and city, and region-wide disaster drills all have at their heart the symbiosis of education, research, patient care and community service. A generation ago, the field of emergency medicine was just beginning to emerge as a medical specialty; on Marathon Monday, those treating the injured were applying techniques learned recently on the battlefields of Afghanistan, emblematic of the commitment to lifelong learning and the sharing of best practices that are the hallmarks of academic medicine.

We know that research advances medicine and ongoing clinical training saves lives. The approach that our first-year students learn during basic life-support training—to check for an airway, for breathing, for circulation—was enacted on Boylston Street over and over, indicative of medical personnel’s pact with the society that supports their training. It was no accident that so many capable health care professionals, those present at the scene and those waiting in the emergency and operating rooms, saved so many lives. The area’s academic medical centers, which have received tremendous support and have been enabled to fuse the fundamental mission of providing clinical care with a commitment to medical training and research, were prepared to fulfill their public responsibility to promote and protect the health and well-being of all those who may be entrusted to their care. We watched with pride as our colleagues rose to meet the challenges they could not have imagined.

Where is our values construct today? Look no further than sequestration cuts, which are the antithesis of the thoughtful and committed investments we have made over generations in academic medicine. Look at the cuts to NIH funding that may deter a generation of promising young scientists from pursuing research careers. Look at how we struggle to make financing for graduate medical education work in a 21st-century world that lacks the conviction and commitment to those who will be tomorrow’s clinicians. Yes, academic medical centers have a role to play in the cost containment discussion, but we are not having a discussion, are we? We are being “tiered” into a corner by forces that question the vital value of academic medicine in America.

This year, our students will leave our medical school in a vastly changed environment from the one that has helped create and sustain our great academic medical centers. Arguments over health care reform and payor systems conceal the real threat: that we will turn away from a professional commitment to the public good and make medicine a purely transactional arrangement. We already see this in the challenges we face to create an environment that professionally and financially supports primary care physicians, particularly at a moment when the need for them is profound. The environment affecting primary care—unworkable practice conditions, unmanageable debt burdens, lower reimbursement, and difficulty in recruiting colleagues—now threatens our academic medical centers as well. Can we commit to today’s students and graduates that the infrastructure and the environment that represent generations of wise investment in training and research will be there to support them tomorrow?

Given the graduates that sit before me, I am bullish on the future of health care in America. For you see, our graduates are our most important accomplishment. As health care reforms continue to unfold, we are pleased that it is you to whom we will entrust the future of science and health care.

As you begin your careers, and as you continue in them, we hope that you will be inspired by those we pay tribute to today:

Like James Dalen, while caring for the heart, you may have the opportunity to lead a great academic medical center.

Like Susan Hockfield, while unlocking the intricacies within the brain, you may have the opportunity to leave your imprint on one of America’s great institutions.

Like Christina Hernon, Maurine Williams or Ron Walls and all those who cared for those injured at the Marathon, while witnessing the resilience of the human condition, at a moment you least expect it, you may be called upon to run toward and embrace those in need of your healing touch.

Most importantly, we need you to remember that while many nights will not be easy, or many nights restful, you are not alone.

Touch the hands of your patients; join the hands of your colleagues; hold the hands of your mentors and you will not only bring comfort; you will find comfort.

As the aftermath of the Marathon proved, even when calamity strikes and their own safety is uncertain, doctors, their nurse colleagues, and all on the care giving team reach out to their patients to treat them. We go to our patients in their moments of greatest need. This speaks volumes about what it means to be a caregiver and the covenant we make with our patients.

On Marathon Monday, and on each and every day in our institutions, we reap the benefits of our nation’s long-standing commitment to academic medicine. Through their service to others, our colleagues in Boston made us proud. For the patients we serve, the students we educate and the research we conduct, with our nation’s redoubled commitment, our future will be bright. The stakes are evident. Our resolve must remain so!

As you embark upon your bright futures, we shall watch with heightened anticipation for your many accomplishments. We hope that you will remain mindful that our communities, our commonwealth, our nation and our world need you.

We need your intellect and innovation.

We need your care and compassion.

We need your humility and humanity.

And, all the while, know that we will take great pride in recognizing you as one of our own.