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COMMENTS OF LARRY R. KAISER, MD

TUSM CLASS OF 2015 WHITE COAT CEREMONY

 

Larry R. Kaiser, MD.  Photo courtesy of Conrad Erb Photography.

On Friday, August 5, 2011, Temple University School of Medicine welcomed the MD candidates of the Class of 2015 to the medical profession and the Temple family. Larry Kaiser, MD, FACS, Dean of the School of Medicine, Sr. Executive Vice President of Temple University, and CEO, Temple University Health System, addressed the 211 class members and their families. Bennett Lorber MD, MACP, Thomas Durant Professor of Medicine at Temple, delivered the keynote address. Dr. Kaiser's remarks appear below. (Photo courtesy of Conrad Erb Photography.)

 

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It is a real privilege for me as your Dean to join you today as we celebrate a truly significant event in your young lives. This is my first White Coat Ceremony as Dean so for me it is a special occasion as well.


Today marks your entry into one of the world’s great professions, not the world’s oldest profession, but certainly one with a unique and distinguished history and one whose only purpose is to benefit one’s fellow man. Those of us in this profession truly are servants—but servants in the proudest and most honorable sense, in that we serve for the purpose of bringing healing and comfort to others.


Our profession has many great traditions, some dating back centuries; others, relatively new. But that sense of tradition pervades our profession and infuses all of us with what it means to be a physician. I acknowledge my somewhat biased frame of reference but I’m unable to come up with any other calling, and this profession indeed is a calling, that brings much personal satisfaction. And to think that you can be part of this great profession and still have the lifestyle that you desire because of the breadth of opportunities that this professions offers.


What a great time in your life. I imagine most of you have wanted to be physicians for as long as you can remember. I know that I did and, though we didn’t have a White Coat ceremony, I certainly remember sitting in an auditorium on my first day.

 

It’s already been a long road for all of you to get here today, but it’s really just the beginning. This profession offers so many opportunities and they will be there for the taking.

 

Yes, there are many naysayers who say that our profession is not the same … that we are not viewed by the public with the same reverence and respect that we once were … that outside influences— the government, payers, regulators—have become so pervasive that practicing medicine is no longer fun or rewarding. DON’T BELIEVE THEM!

 

That is not to say that we have not experienced change or that further major changes in how we practice medicine will not occur. Change is inevitable; and you most assuredly will be the ones most affected by these monumental changes.

 

Currently healthcare spending consumes 17% of our GDP, a rate that far exceeds that of any other country and one that is not sustainable. Expenditures on health and human services in most states consumes at least one-third of the states’ budget. Thus, change must occur and we must be prepared to embrace it.

 

Greg Shea, a former colleague from the Wharton School at Penn, has noted, “For over half of century, industry after industry has moved from a world of stability or perhaps cyclical change to a world of permanent change, a world where paradoxically, the one constant is change. Change is simply the order of the day, any day, every day. Indeed, forget your job description; your real job is change.” He calls this “whitewater”—which, as all of you know, results from a fast moving river and powerful cross-currents. What better analogy to describe the current environment in healthcare today.

 

Shea goes on to note that “In the natural world, those cross-currents arise from the flow of water over and through an extremely varied landscape, a collection of jagged stones, a sudden drop in the stream's floor, a fallen tree, or uneven erosion of a river bank. Turbulent cross-currents result.”

 

In our world, we have created what Peter Vaill termed "permanent whitewater.” Shea notes that this world does not contain flat or calm water. Our river roars on not from rapid to rapid, but as one big rapid or whitewater river.

 

In healthcare today we find ourselves smack in the middle of the whitewater. Everything from the way we teach in our medical schools to how we record a patient interaction is in a state of flux.


And then we get to the big issues like how we are going to provide health insurance to the 45 million Americans currently uninsured or how we are going to pay our ever growing healthcare bill or who is going to be providing healthcare as we look toward a looming shortage of physicians and in particular primary care providers.

 

We must recognize that healthcare is a team sport and, going forward, working in teams likely will be the optimal way to maintain wellness and not just rely on our ability to treat the sick.

 

No doubt we find ourselves at a unique time in the history of American medicine. But no matter what happens, and as that famous sage Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”, nothing should interfere with the relationship between doctor and patient, truly a sacred bond.


To think that you will be in a position where your fellow man will trust you enough to put their lives in your hands—what a privilege. As a practicing surgeon I still marvel at the fact that someone will come to my office and after meeting me for only a very short time is willing to entrust me with their life—confident that I will do the best for them. Powerful, indeed.

 

The art and science of medicine is life-long learning. It’s not a continuing education, it’s a continuous education. From the moment you put on that coat, you will become part of a great profession and all that goes with it. It’s almost a living thing … this kind of educational process.

 

The Temple University School of Medicine is many things to many people.

 

To patients, it’s hope and healing.

 

To researchers, it is discovery and ultimately the translation of ideas into advances.

 

To all of us, though—and you, in particular—it is a pure path of learning.

 

Our unique emphasis as an institution is education. And we’ll do just that: over the next four years, the faculty will provide you with the opportunity for a first-class education, unparalleled, I assure you.

 

Your patients will teach you the rest.

 

You’ve got a lot to look forward to.

 

We’ve learned more in the way of scientific discovery in the past 20 years than we learned in the past 200.

 

We’ve sequenced the entire human genome. You and your generation get to tell us what secrets it holds. We’ve entered the age of personalized medicine. You get to perfect it—and grapple with the emerging ethical issues surrounding it.

 

We’re finally paying attention to preventive medicine and wellness. You get to unleash longevity.

 

Imagine what your next 20 years will teach you … teach us.

 

Welcome and Congratulations, Class of 2015.