We’re here to celebrate the finale of four years of dedication and adaptation, laughs and tears, sacrifice and gratification. We said in our entrance interviews that we wanted to help people so we read the books, we learned the skills, we practiced the procedures. In clerkship we were bestowed the privilege of applying that information, those skills and those procedures on real, live humans. We always knew there was a safety harness in place just in case to protect and shield us from our mistakes, to support our meager confidence in our abilities. Today, in an act of respect, trust and honor, that safety harness was partially removed. The responsibility and the gratification of helping people have again been heightened as we continue down the path toward becoming independent physicians.
Our reasons for entering medical school in the first place are as varied as our personalities. But for whatever reason, 60 of us found ourselves gathered together on a bus four years ago, blindfolded, covered in water, headed out into God’s green acre, forced to sing Newfie songs along the way that only two-thirds of us actually knew. We slowly discovered how different we were in age range, background, marital status and interests. Some had traveled long distances from the United States, from Europe, from the “mainland.” We learned to adapt to each other, to our new environment and to our new focus in life. And with time we developed a “class identity.” Which begs the question that every valedictorian is expected to answer: How is our class unique? For the moment, I leave that for you to think about.
We spent two long years in the classroom, the preclerkship, then two frighteningly fast years on the “wards,” the clerkship. Clerkship was rather a blur of activity. We snipped sutures, sometimes we missed; we caught babies, sometimes we missed; we examined neonates, sometimes the wrong one, as they can’t talk and they all look alike, but nonetheless we always got peed on; we wrote on the charts CBC, BUN, Lytes Cr, Coags, LFTs, IV’s, ABGs, PFTs, CT, EEG, pretty please …without, initially, knowing what any of those actually stand for; we took hour-long psychiatric histories, sometimes, for excellent practice, on each other…
We learned that promoting the importance of sleep has never been medicine’s strong point. Being “on call” during the obstetrics rotation is like boot camp. At night. And instead of drill sergeants, there’s something far worse: women in labor. A typical obstetrics call shift is 29 hours straight, and if you’re lucky, you’ll sleep for an hour or so. On that note, I would like to congratulate Dr. Mark Powell, who unfortunately cannot be with us tonight, on somehow managing to slumber for 13 hours straight in the obstetrics call room. Feel free to pummel him at a later date.
There are memorable class moments that we will have difficulty forgetting. Dr. Paul Heffernan, AV Guy Extraordinaire: on the front lines, showing our professors with three diplomas how to turn the lights back on in the auditorium; Dr. John Martin, our leader and diplomat, addressing us with the familiar, “Hey you guys?”; Dr. Arun Mensinkai, who broke 9.5 on the Richter Scale with his sneezes of mass destruction; Dr. Jamie Farrell, the founder of the Farrell Home-Schooling Medical Education; Dr. Sean Hagenbuch, who would enrapture us with his bold and edgy comments filled with vigour and political expression; the unfortunate Dr. Joe Lockyer who was tragically affected by gravity when his stethoscope stealthily slipped from his neck into an unsuspecting toilet bowl; Drs. Kathryn Olsen and Kathleen Dooling who brought appreciation of the female genitalia to a whole new level when they brought the Vagina Monologues to Newfoundland.
And so we’re back to... How are we unique?
For starters, typical previous medical school classes were composed of purely Type A personalities; only a third of our class is Type A; the rest are Type A plus. But seriously, we are 60 bright, caring, hard-working individuals that offer each other a helping hand when needed, look out for each other, and share the occasional cold beverage or two. In that broad sense, we are undoubtedly not that different from the classes before us.
BUT… our class encountered an event that makes us distinctly different: we experienced the sudden loss of a fellow classmate near the end of our first year. Gina Blundon, a beautiful, bright, caring, charming young woman who had already secured a warm home in our hearts, died the morning of our cardiology exam. We mourned, we attended her funeral and her burial, we held a memorial service in our auditorium, and we planted a tree in her memory on the grounds outside this hospital.
How her death affected our class is a complicated matter, for even though we may not consciously think of her often, the effects may be subconscious and inherent in everything we do. Perhaps a subtle alteration in appreciating life? Perhaps the slightest added desire to aid a classmate in need? Perhaps even an extra fraction of a second taken to double check a patient’s lab result? Whatever the effect, no matter how minor, losing Gina has made us undoubtedly unique as a group. We may grow blind to the gifts she has left us, but we will never forget her smile.
And what now for the Class of 2004? Well, some of us have already started families. Several more will be married within the upcoming month. Half of us will be staying at Memorial for our residencies, while the remaining half head off to the big bad scary U.S. and the rest of Canada. Wherever we end up, we’re supposed to remember that no matter what, we must take care of ourselves and of each other.
And if ever we’re in need of moral guidance, we could think back to those old, wise physicians, including some guy named Hippocrates who said something to the effect of “First, Do no Harm.” Oscar London seconded that moral by entitling his bestselling book “Kill as Few Patients as Possible.” When all else fails, these seem to be decent rules to practice by.
Dr. Ernst Wunder, president of the American Health Foundation, once said: “It should be the function of medicine to help people die young as late in life as possible.” It’s deep, but it fits.
So. Put on that white coat, wrap that stethoscope around your neck, straighten your name tag, and bring along your sense of humor, your empathy, and your spirit when you walk into your patient’s room. Occasionally, when you’re having one of those disheartening internship days when you feel like a lump of protoplasm, take a humble glance at those two little letters after your name a reminder of where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished, and where you could go.