Most middle-schoolers don’t want medical textbooks for Christmas. Jessica Koehler did, and read them every day.
“That’s always been my dream. I wanted to go to medical school for as long as I can remember,” she said. “So when I got to medical school, I had to focus on a new dream.”
Her “new dream” – working as an emergency room physician – is now a reality. Dr. Koehler is one of 271 men and women who earned the title of doctor June 6 at the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s commencement and hooding ceremony, held at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. She will start an Emergency Medicine residency at the University of Cincinnati in July.
Dr. Koehler’s seven-member cheering section joined the crowd of mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings and children who gathered late in the morning in front of the theater for photos, flowers, tears and hugs. Inside, they applauded, cheered and shouted their loved ones’ names at the school’s 149th commencement, a culmination of at least eight years of higher education, Dean Jack D. Sobel, M.D., reminded them.
“Starting tomorrow, it is all about your patients. You must preserve your passion for medicine and your compassion for patients so that you can continue sharing both for a lifetime,” he said. “You are extremely fortunate to be engaged in what I believe is the most sacred profession – that of healing your fellow human beings.”
School of Medicine faculty, deans, department chairs, WSU President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., his cabinet members and other WSU dignitaries filled the venue stage in support of the graduates.
“Be good to medicine,” President Wilson said. “That means respect medicine, commit yourself fully and act in the best interest of your patients. Medicine will give you a personal fulfillment that very few professions can give.”
The physicians’ first step as doctors is serving as medical residents for the next three to seven years, depending on their chosen specialty. Commencement keynote speaker Mark Bertolini, a Detroit native who earned a bachelor of arts degree from WSU, implored them to think as much about the patient’s kitchen table as they will about what they see on the exam table.
Bertolini, a spinal cord injury survivor and kidney donor, is chief executive officer of Aetna Inc., and considered a leader in corporate social responsibility because of his views on increasing access, lowering costs and improving quality of health care. He shared sobering statistics on the state of health care in the United States, and talked about how a patient’s social determinants and ZIP code directly affect their health and the care they receive more than age, gender or genetic makeup.
“I need you to change how we think about health care,” he said.
More than half of the Class of 2017 will remain in Michigan for residencies. Alexandra Matthews, who draped a white-and-green flower lei over her gown, moved to Detroit from Hawaii to attend the WSU School of Medicine, where her grandfather earned his medical degree in 1952, and where her mother taught and practiced cardiology. Dr. Matthews will remain here for a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Detroit Medical Center. She described being called a doctor as “surreal.”
“It went by really quickly. I would do it over again in a heartbeat, and I wouldn’t change a thing,” she said.
Of the graduates, 39.7 percent will enter primary care residencies, including Antonio Smith, M.D., an Inkster, Mich., native who will begin an Internal Medicine residency with the DMC and the School of Medicine.
“This is perfect timing. All my family and friends are here, and it is a great occasion,” Dr. Smith said.
He met his mentor, Henry Ford Health System internist James Jeffries, M.D., in the Clinical Medicine course in his first year of medical school. “He was always there to encourage me and tell me to keep on pushing,” Dr. Smith said.
“I’ve been very proud to see this result,” Dr. Jeffries added.
Graduates moving out of Michigan will practice medicine in 31 U.S. states and Canada, at 79 hospitals, universities and medical centers.