Commencement is a seminal moment in the career of a medical student. It signals their transition from theory to practice. After four years of rigorous study, building lifelong friendships, countless clinical hours and in-depth scholarly research, it is a day to mark the culmination of their efforts.
On Monday, May 9, the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix celebrated its 12th commencement ceremony. Led by the traditional pipe and drum corps through the streets of downtown Phoenix, 72 students representing the class of 2022 — joined by faculty and leaders from the college — entered the Phoenix Convention Center to raucous cheers and applause from friends and family.
Guy L. Reed, MD, MS, dean of the College of Medicine – Phoenix, noted the class of 2022’s achievements. “You succeeded. You endured. You transformed,” he said. “And in doing all of that, you made all of us proud. We stand before you today sharing the elation and joy of your triumph.”
Determination only partially defines these graduates. As the COVID-19 pandemic upended their education, it also spurred them to give back to a community so desperately in need.
Provost Liesl Folks, PhD, MBA, who officially conferred the degrees, noted in her remarks the class's desire to aid the community. “Many of us answered the call to fight the pandemic by staying home and masking up; but you, class of 2022, took heroic steps in this fight. Through the COVID-19 Student Corps, you helped to provide community aid, helpline support, PPE donations and so much more. You truly embody the Wildcat spirit of care,” she said.
In her closing, she offered these words of encouragement, “In times of struggle, remember that you can do hard things; and I hope you will hold on to your sense of wonder. Wildcats, it is now your time to take the reins. Keep your values close to your heart and success will always find you.”
Class overcame pandemic-related obstacles
Rebecca Fisher, PhD, was honored with this year's Stuart D. Flynn, MD, Master Educator Award. The recognition is bestowed by the graduating class to a faculty member who exemplifies the dedication, hard work, compassion and discipline that it takes to be a great educator.
Dr. Fisher is the director of the college’s gross anatomy laboratory and serves as the interim co-chair of the Department of Basic Medical Sciences.
“Dr. Fisher prepares our students to be physician-scientists, who bring a strong understanding of the scientific underpinnings of medicine and the human condition to their treatment of disease,” said Dean Reed.
Luke Wohlford, MD, was selected by his peers to deliver the student address. He focused his remarks on the monumental task the class undertook.
Dr. Wohlford recognized each classmate experienced medical school differently — the ups and downs, the adversities — but one thing remained constant: their commitment to one another.
“Four years is a long time for anyone, let alone for most of us in the prime of our youth (however waning that might be). Our support systems became so incredibly important. Many of us added to our families. And some of us lost members of our family. But we always had each other to fall back on,” he said.
As they graduate and transition to residency, that bond will be strained, but Dr. Wohlford expressed confidence that their camaraderie will extend into their treatment of patients. “We will soon cease to become a group of people in the same medical school in the same city. Fortunately, we have the privilege and opportunity to retain our nickname as the ‘most supportive class’ by supporting our patients with everything we have. And I know we will, because I already know of many examples of this from our class.”
New doctors are future of medicine
Mary O’Reilly, PhD, vice president of bioscience research programs at the Flinn Foundation, delivered the commencement address.
In her address, Dr. O’Reilly stressed that the graduates would be integral in helping to shape the future of medicine. "You are joining the profession at a remarkable point in time, when models for health care delivery are rapidly changing and new discoveries and innovations in health care are occurring just as fast," she said. "There is one thing certain: you will all need to be lifelong learners to keep pace with these changes."
The ceremony closed with the class of 2022 reciting their class oath. When they entered the College of Medicine – Phoenix, the students crafted the oath together; it was their collective commitment to become physicians who respect the dignity of their patients, honor them through compassion and to treat the human being, rather than the disease.
Today, the oath took on a new significance. What once served as the beginning of their journey is now the end. In the coming months, the class of 2022 will head to their respective residencies — some here in Arizona, others in various states across the country. And they will carry with them all they learned throughout their four years at the college.
Dr. O'Reilly stated her hope that those journeys would one day wind their way back to the desert. "At some point in the future, we would love to have you back in Arizona. The bioscience and health care community that all of us are building together, with high-quality jobs and a strong economy, will be waiting for you” she said.
Wherever they end up, their service will help the immense need for more doctors in communities across the country.