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Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

Grads hear words of hope amid economic challenges  

BY MIKE GOODKIND

In spite of daunting economic challenges for the field of health care and the lure of Silicon Valley careers, faculty and student speakers at the School of Medicine's Convocation 2000 offered new graduates hope for both academic medicine and the future of patient care.

Heart transplant pioneer Norman Shumway, MD, PhD, one of two commencement speakers, quipped that he was "maybe the only faculty member without a company or a patent," and urged graduates "not to catch Silicon Valley fever" by leaving medicine for more lucrative but arguably less beneficial careers.

"If we fail to produce talented new scientists, we are bankrupt. Stanford, at least as far as its students are concerned, is solvent," said Stanley Falkow, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology, and Sunday's second speaker.

Both commencement speakers were Stanford faculty members. Falkow, represented the basic sciences, while Shumway represented clinical sciences.

"You are the first inheritors of the complete genomic sequence," Falkow told the new graduates. He noted that the soon-to-be-completed sequencing of human DNA offers enormous potential as a tool for research and clinical achievements.

Shumway, the Douglass and Nola Leishman Professor in Cardiovascular Disease, talked about current problems in the health care system that new clinicians will have to face:

"Your predecessors, my colleagues, have brought health care almost to a standstill. The HMO [health maintenance organization] virus is one of the worst unnatural disasters of our time. The HMOs are making a killing figuratively and literally. Never before has personal freedom been so restricted in this country. The freedom of the patient to select his or her own physician may require an amendment to the bill of rights. HMOs have failed both in patient care and in reducing costs. Something must be done."

In spite of his bleak outlook, Shumway expressed confidence that Stanford graduates are qualified to take on these and many other challenges.

"In the education of [Stanford medical] students, arts and sciences have been brought together beautifully. It's one merger that has really worked," he said.

James Brewer, speaking on behalf of new MDs, said he learned about the Stanford tradition of caring when he received his first backrub after a long day on the trail during a medical school orientation hike in the Sierra. His fellow students ­ "people who truly wanted to help others feel good" ­ gave each other backrubs throughout the trip, Brewer said.

In his remarks at Sunday's ceremony, Eugene Bauer, MD, vice president of the Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine, noted that in Stanford's tradition of nurturing physician scholars, six students received both MD and PhD degrees, while four others received MDs after securing a PhD earlier.

The School of Medicine's Convocation 2000 placed a special emphasis on the basic sciences as PhD recipients were "hooded" by their faculty mentors with the symbolic placement of the scarf that indicates the graduate's school ­ a national tradition new to Stanford's Medical School.

This year's graduating class was typical in size and composition ­ 89 MD, 64 PhD and 24 master of science candidates.

In his remarks, Bauer challenged the students to pursue "education throughout life to become the leaders you have been prepared to be." SR