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“Preserving the Nobility of Medicine” Dr. Robert Alpern, 2014 Commencement Address of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Page 1 copyIn continuation of the Medical Commencement Archive, this Friday we are releasing a new commencement speech. Today’s commencement speech is titled Preserving the Nobility of Medicine. This commencement speech was given by Dr. Robert J. Alpern, a Northwestern University alumnus, to the students of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The esteemed Dr. Alpern is Ensign Professor of Medicine and Dean at Yale University School of Medicine. He also is President of the American Society of Nephrology, as well as a sitting Advisory Council Member of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Dr. Alpern took a moment for students to take a closer look at the value and weight of the two-lettered title: MD. He reflected upon the unique status given to physicians, and the reverence given to doctors from the community and from patients. Yet, at the same time the medical paradigm continues to evolve. Dr. Alpern astutely foresees a future where physicians must adapt to the growing roles in the medical team, changes in bureaucracy, and the changing expectations of patient’s for their treatment. Dr. Alpern also notes that these changes will influence the training and education of physicians. On top of our own desire to stifle the monsoon current of medical information during our education, there are legitimate concerns that the future medical student will receive but an abbreviated biochemistry course, or won’t need to take an MCAT, maybe even spend less time in medical school. Yet, Dr. Alpern urges one thing: to value the pursuit of scholarship. He reminds us that only with a strong foundation may a strong physician be built.

“We observe the patient and draw on our scientific understanding of how the body works and sometimes does not work, to develop a truth that we can implement as an action plan. We must know clinical guidelines and the most up-to-date treatment algorithms, but we must also be ready to identify clinical circumstances in which they do not apply.”

Dr. Alpern eloquently explains that, above all else, the pursuit of knowledge and scholarship is indeed the nobility of medicine. He reminds us to respect this pursuit in lieu of the changes we will see in our futures as physicians, such that “we do not return to the era of trade schools of medicine”. Dr. Alpern further mentions that, in addition to being a scholar, the physician must be compassionate, and that neither trait is mutually exclusive:

“I also want to make the point that an emphasis on science is not the antithesis of compassion, but it is rather the complement of compassion”.

At the end of his speech, Dr. Alpern concludes with this piece of wisdom:

“Do not be intimidated by the evolving healthcare system. Rather, as the next generation of physicians, you will define healthcare, and you must define it well.”