This week, Dr. Ruth Lawrence’s 2015 commencement speech at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry entitled, “Going Forth with Compassion,” debuts the Medical Commencement Archive. This address was a personal favorite to read and a great reminder for those of us still studying in our medical school caves, as well as those starting their life in residency.
Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence, MD, is a graduate of Antioch College and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She is a pediatrician, clinical toxicologist and neonatologist. She is Professor of Pediatrics and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Medical Director of both the Ruth A. Lawrence Poison and Drug Information Center and of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center. She became the Director of the Poison Center at the University of Rochester in 1958 and wrote on the management of household poisonings with Dr. Robert Haggerty, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics and former Director of the Boston Poison Center. She has been a member of the New York State Association of Poison Centers since its founding and has served as its President twice. In 2002, Dr. Lawrence received the Life Time Achievement Award from the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology.
Dr. Lawrence begins her speech with the almost-intimidating reality of graduating from medical school:
“You are about to embark on the most challenging year ever. Medical school pales by comparison because before you were the student, you were there to learn but it was someone else’s responsibility. In a few weeks, you will be the doctor of record, what you do may save a life, solve a problem, or change the course of an illness.”
She reminds the class that despite the advances in technology, treatment plans and hospital protocols, and despite the efficiency of a quick reference to “Google,” nothing will ever replace the significance of simply listening to your patient and being compassionate.
“The key to being a good doctor is to really care about your patient. The science will come and go, but the best doctors understand people, REAL people, and are good communicators. Listen when patients talk, listen completely.”
Dr. Lawrence concluded by reciting a short quote:
The purpose in life is not to be happy, it is to matter
To be productive and responsible
To be honorable
To be dedicated to goals higher than self
To have it make some difference that you lived at all.