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Stanford Report, June 18, 2003

Gerberding extols value of networks at commencement Grads face unprecedented global health challenges


We live in a very global world, but it’s also a small world," said Julie Gerberding, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control, as she addressed the 2003 graduating class of the School of Medicine. "What happens in one corner affects what happens in another corner, so our systems for promoting health have to be highly cross-linked."

Networking and the interconnectedness of science and medicine with world health emerged as themes for the School of Medicine’s commencement Saturday. About 1,500 family members and friends gathered under a tent on the Dean’s Lawn to watch the students receive their diplomas.

At the ceremony, 10 students received MS degrees, 30 received PhDs and 83 received MDs, including 11 who received both PhDs and MDs. (Many graduate students had their degrees awarded earier in the year and did not attend.)

Gerberding, who is leading the CDC at a time when it has been in the spotlight dealing with anthrax, West Nile virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS, and now monkeypox, emphasized in her keynote address that communication and exchange of information are the critical factors for a viable health system — one that includes both the preventive and treatment arms of health care.

"I think the dichotomy between public health and the health-care delivery system is archaic," said Gerberding. "It’s artificial, it’s ineffective and sometimes it’s very dangerous. So what your challenge will be as you go forth into our health system is to really create the health network of the 21st century."

An interconnected health-care system is not just a dream, Gerberding said, and she used her recent experience with the SARS epidemic to illustrate the linkages joining public health and disease treatment.

"SARS is a disease about networks," she said. "A network of people who transmitted the disease, followed very quickly by a network of people from around the world who acted in concert to respond. I think it really teaches us how important a comprehensive, global health network really is."

The world needs an interconnected system to address health threats, she said, whether they are international terrorist attacks, or emerging infectious diseases, or tobacco products that are being exported internationally or the obesity epidemic.

"The future is the world of integration and multidisciplinary ventures," said Gerberding. She brought the issue closer to home by referring to an earlier statement Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school, made about integrating science across the many departments and divisions at Stanford with the opening of the Clark Center.

Pizzo noted the new facility is opening, one that brings together faculty from four schools and 24 departments to engage in different areas of interdisciplinary research, including such fields as biodesign, systems neuroscience and regenerative medicine. These are the fields, he said, that will help to shape the future.

Pizzo challenged the graduates to transform and take charge of their environment. "While I congratulate you and welcome you to our community as graduates," he said, "I also challenge you to help change us and change the world."

Two graduating students addressed their colleagues, providing perspectives on improving the world with their new positions. Eleanor Suchada Click, MD, PhD, compared her graduate studies to a treacherous trek through the Peruvian jungle to Macchu Picchu. During her time as both a graduate and a medical student, Click concluded that graduate school is not about acquiring a particular set of knowledge but acquiring a skill to create new knowledge.

Feyza Essam Marouf, MD, read a poem she composed, "Strong Work," which reflected on physician advocacy and activism. "Silence almost never benefits humanity and it often kills," Marouf said. She encouraged her classmates to speak up and stay strong.

Social causes, morality top commencement issues (6/19/02)