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39 doctors have graduated, ready to take on their residencies at the next level.
On Sat. May 9, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley held a virtual commencement ceremony for the School of Medicine’s first graduating class. The doctors started in the program in 2016, when the school was first opened.
Dr. Leonel Vela, the Senior Associate Dean for Educational Resources and a professor in the School of Medicine, introduced the commencement ceremony and noted that the school had been a dream of the community for decades.
“After today, the Valley and UTRGV can proclaim proudly that we have graduated our first medical school class,” Vela said. “This achievement of the School of Medicine’s Charter Class of 2020 – the pride and joy of the graduates, families and friends, shared by the faculty and the entire UTRGV and Valley community – remains vibrant and steadfast.”
Social distancing measures compelled the School of Medicine to hold the ceremony virtually, and all the speakers stressed that the accomplishments of the Class of 2020 with Dr. John Krouse, the Dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, spoke on the unique challenges of the inaugural class.
“None of us even a few short months ago could have anticipated the terrible effects that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, would have on our country, our region and our university,” Krouse said. “No matter how well you plan or practice or prepare, life can and will throw you curveballs. We must therefore all remain flexible to change, yet remain grounded in our education, our families and our cultures so that we can draw on those foundational skills and principals and can succeed in the face of adversity.”
Krouse said that Saturday was an important day not only for their careers, but in recognition for the years of hard work and dedication that the RGV community invested in making the school a reality.
“I am sure that when you began classes that [first] summer, four years seemed like an eternity to you as you looked ahead to the work that you would do,” Krouse said. “And now, I’m sure it seems to have flown by in an instant.”
Krouse said the lessons and experiences they had have prepared the graduates to be outstanding physicians, and the friends they made there are a lifelong group of colleagues.
“All of us should be rightly proud of what we have accomplished together,” Krouse said, speaking on the changes made to the school thanks to student feedback. “It has been critical for us to be on this journey together as partners, committed to your success.”
UTRGV President Dr. Guy Bailey spoke on the historic first this virtual commencement ceremony represented.
“These are difficult times, and you’re graduating in difficult times, but the good news is you are trailblazers,” Bailey said. “You started this medical school, it began with you, and as we deal with COVID-19, as you go out into your profession, you’ll blaze a trail there as well.”
The keynote address was given by Dr Kenneth Shine, a cardiologist and physiologist who served as Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs in the University of Texas System, the Dean and Provost for Medical Sciences at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine, President of the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) and the Founding Director of the RAND Center for Domestic and International Health Security. Shine spoke on the responsibilities of being a physician, and told impactful stories from when he was a newly-graduated doctor in his residency.
“The most important people to learn from, in my view, are patients,” Shine said. “Learning from patients is one of the great opportunities and privileges that you have as a physician.”
He added that COVID-19 is an opportunity to learn more in the years to come about how to properly respond in the face of a pandemic.
“The response was minimal in February,” Shine said of the government’s action when the coronavirus was predicted to hit the United States. “We must not let that happen again – we have a history in this country of having episodes or events, gearing up for them with public health responses and then letting everything slide after the event is gone. I hope that never happens again, and you as professionals should make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Shine also spoke on the challenges one faces as a doctor, a lot of which are not typically regarded as part of the job description. He congratulated the students for their dedication and innovation moving forward in light of their years of education.
“You’re surrounded by technology, but don’t forget that learning about the patient is about the interactions that you have,” Shine said. “Regardless of the problems that you see and the terrible epidemic we’re seeing right now, in the long run it’ll be your personal relationships with patients that will make the most difference in your practice – not only to the patients, but to you.”
All 39 graduates were shown during the commencement one by one, with a copy of their diplomas next to a photograph or headshot.
Dr. Nausheen Jamal presented the Physician’s Oath to the graduates, and Dr. Julian Mahler, President of the UTRGV School of Medicine Class of 2020, reflected on their journey as a class.
“We as a class have had the opportunity to grow what we have planted,” Mahler said. “As our roles change from student to physician, we are able to support the mission of the School of Medicine and community in a novel way.”