Medical school celebration speakers press new doctors to prioritize mental health

Media Credit: Jack Fonseca | Contributing Photo Editor

Outgoing medical school Dean Jeffrey Akman urges graduates to give back to the school as they progress in their careers.

More than 150 medical school graduates received their diplomas and doctoral hoods at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences commencement celebration in Lisner Auditorium Sunday.

Barbara Lee Bass, the chair of the department of surgery at Houston Methodist Hospital and the keynote speaker for the event, spoke to graduates about caring for themselves and their colleagues in addition to caring for patients’ wellbeing.

Here are some of Bass’ memorable points:

1. Privilege and responsibility
Bass said becoming a doctor is a privilege that bears a hefty responsibility because physicians must make decisions in the best interest of their patients. She told the graduates that they will make mistakes while caring for patients but must remain confident in their practice.

“These things will happen in the very human career you have chosen,” she said. “We need tools to help us prepare ourselves to restore our clarity of wise choice, of optimism for future engagement with our patients and for restoring confidence in the wise physician that you are.”

2. Caring for one another
Bass spoke to graduates about valuing their physical and mental health and wellbeing. She said doctors’ need to care for patients often prevents them from adequately taking care of themselves.

“None of us are immune,” she said. “I ask that you seek help when you need it.”

Bass also urged graduates to look after their colleagues’ wellbeing. She said physicians are often reluctant to seek help when struggling with mental health, substance abuse and personal relationship issues, and that graduates must not be afraid to ask if their colleagues need help.

“I ask you to be there for each other, to be mindful of the stresses we all live with at home, at work and in our communities,” Bass said. “Be aware. Reach out.”

3. Advocating for patients
Outgoing medical school Dean Jeffrey Akman reflected on his achievements, like decreasing medical student debts, prioritizing student scholarship support and creating more experiential learning opportunities. Akman encouraged graduates to donate to the medical school to support students’ medical education.

“As you progress through your careers, remember to pay it forward when you can,” he said.

Akman said that in light of “backslides” in health care – like the anti-vaccination movement, the opioid epidemic, increasing drug prices and stringent restrictions on abortion – doctors should increase advocacy for patients’ rights.

“Americans want to see solutions to these problems,” he said. “Most Americans depend on their physicians not only for their medical care but to advocate on their behalf and influence health policy in a patient-centered way.”

Akman charged the graduates to find health care issues they’re passionate about and join their medical specialty organization to advocate for them.

“I am encouraging you to find an issue that you are passionate about with your white coat, and grab it and run with it,” he said.

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