UMass Medical School awarded 227 degrees at its 43rd Commencement on Sunday, June 5, and recognized the newly minted doctors and advanced practice nurses as first in the state trained in opioid safe prescribing and pain management in the wake of the national opioid epidemic.
“Opioids are a quiet killer, surrounded by despair on one side and loneliness on the other. Through the leadership of our governor, focus has been galvanized to this challenge and our campus has responded with intensity and determination,” Chancellor Michael F. Collins said in his remarks to the graduates of the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Graduate School of Nursing. “As the state’s public medical school, we have a special responsibility to act and we have accepted the governor’s challenge. You are the first classes to have experienced content-focused education and training directly as a result of this initiative.”
Gov. Charlie Baker echoed those sentiments in his keynote address, applauding UMMS for its efforts to swiftly add the new training to its curriculum.
“This place was an early supporter, led by the chancellor and others, on some of the more controversial reforms that we proposed last year to deal with the aforementioned opioid epidemic that’s been gripping the commonwealth,” said Gov. Baker, who was given a Chancellor’s Medal. “And in particular to the graduates of this year’s medical school, I want to tell you how pleased I am that you graduated, all of you, having passed the core competency in pain management and opioid therapies and prescribing.
“If I had to pick one of the most important elements of our significant level of reform efforts in this state, it would be for us as a commonwealth to do a better job of preparing all of you, and by the way all of those currently practicing and prescribing, to understand the positives and negatives and the importance of ongoing communication when it comes to opioid therapy.”
Last year, Baker called on UMMS to work in collaboration with Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, and the other Massachusetts medical schools to define core competencies to create a new standard for all graduating medical school students. This year’s School of Medicine and Graduate School of Nursing graduates were the first in the state to receive the 10 core competencies recommended by the governor’s working group. They took part in an intensive, hands-on training in opioid safe prescribing and pain management. This first-of-its-kind, simulation-based program builds upon classroom learning using a series of encounters with standardized patients, who portray a full range of interactions with patients, in settings commonly experienced in the day-to-day practice of medicine.
Baker also credited UMMS for its work with the late Gov. Paul Cellucci, his friend and former boss, to create the UMass ALS Cellucci Fund to advance the ground-breaking research into ALS by UMMS researchers. Finally, he noted the success of the School of Medicine in primary care.
“You also have one of the most successful and important primary care teaching programs in the country at a point in time when more than ever we need superstars and lots of them in primary care,” he said.
At the ceremony, Chancellor Collins presented 114 doctor of medicine degrees; one master of science in clinical investigation; 47 doctor of philosophy degrees in the biomedical sciences; five MD/PhDs; and, in nursing, 47 master of science degrees, two post-master’s certificates, eight PhDs and one doctor of nursing practice degree. Class of 2016 student speakers included Racquel Wells, MD, (School of Medicine), Aditya Venkatesh, PhD, (Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences) and Telana Fairchild, DNP, (Graduate School of Nursing).
International financier and philanthropist Dermot Desmond, and Claire Pomeroy, MD, MBA, president of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, received honorary degrees. Desmond chairs the RESPECT organization, which works to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Most recently, RESPECT established the Daughters of Charity Technology, Research into Disability Research Institute, (DOCTRID) a partnership of 16 universities in Ireland and abroad, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School. The DOCTRID Research Institute is leading an initiative to support 40 fellowships in the field of autism and intellectual disabilities.
Dr. Pomeroy serves as the chief executive of the Lasker Foundation and is responsible for advancing its mission to “improve health by accelerating support for medical research through recognition of research excellence, public education and advocacy.” This support was extended to UMass Medical School when Victor R. Ambros, PhD, was presented the 2008 Lasker Basic Medical Research Award. An expert in infectious diseases, Pomeroy is a long-time advocate for patients, especially those with HIV/AIDS, and public health.