In sweltering heat that failed to melt the enthusiasm of graduates and their supporters, the University of Massachusetts Worcester awarded 211 degrees, including two honorary degrees, at its 40th Commencement exercises on Sunday, June 2. Honorary degrees were presented to cardiologist James Dalen, MD, MPH, a founding UMass Worcester faculty member and champion of integrated medicine, and former MIT president Susan Hockfield, PhD, the first life-scientist to lead the prestigious institution.
UMW awarded 117 doctor of medicine degrees; 32 doctor of philosophy degrees in the biomedical sciences; one master of science in clinical investigation degree; five MD/PhDs; and, in nursing, 49 master of science degrees, two post-masters certificates, one PhD and two doctor of nursing practice degrees.
In his address to the graduates, Chancellor Michael F. Collins warned that actions such as the across-the-board sequestration cuts are endangering the academic medicine culture that helped save lives during the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon.
“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,” said Chancellor Collins, who later in the ceremony honored the Boston Marathon first responders. “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 are being ‘tiered’ into a corner by forces that question the vital value of academic medicine in America,” he said. “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?”
Dr. Dalen asked this class of graduates to do what his generation could not. “You need to help solve our nation’s greatest public health problem: the fact that U.S health care costs are highest in the world,” said Dalen. He addressed two reasons for this high cost: the overuse of high-tech procedures and the under-emphasis of preventative care.
“My generation of physicians overused high tech procedures and underestimated low tech preventions,” he said. “We are too dependent on technology and the urge to overuse it.”
Dr. Hockfield talked about the significance of graduates receiving what may be their last formal degree. “I foresee for all of you that you will have many opportunities to continue your education informally and I can simply tell you that my informal educational opportunities have been as exhilarating and certainly as joyful as any formal opportunities that preceded them,” she said. “So today, I simply want to thank you for pursuing the paths you have elected. Lives of service and careers of service are not the common route in this nation today. I thank you for taking the route less traveled.”
The three student speakers gave their fellow graduates advice based on their shared learning experiences.
“I implore you, GSN graduates, as you start your journey into advance practice, open your heart and mind to all the wisdom that will cross your paths every day. I also encourage you to be ambitious, but please, be kind to yourself as you start your career. Indeed some of the greatest advances in medicine, nursing and research have come from learning from unintended or unexpected results,” said GSN class speaker Nicole Peace, RN, who received her master of science degree.
“As scientists, regardless of your professional future, we have an obligation to support scientific outreach and literacy within our communities and to remind the public of why they invested in us: We have the capability of expanding human knowledge,” said GSBS class speaker Jeanette Osterloh.
School of Medicine class speaker Michael Epstein noted the lack of diversity in medical education, and asked his fellow classmates to help change that dynamic. “There is a long way to go before medical education is as accessible to all those who have what it takes to succeed in medicine, but whose circumstances prevent them from having the right type of application or from even applying at all. I challenge you all to keep such young people in mind as you go forward in your career . . . As we move forward and both work with and treat people from all different backgrounds and all walks of life, I know we will keep these values that are so fundamental to UMass—diversity, inclusiveness and social justice—close to our hearts.”
Despite his earlier warnings on the health of academic health sciences, Chancellor Collins ended his remarks with optimism. “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,” he said.