A Good Job: Dr. Elizabeth Dreesen, University of North Carolina School of Medicine Commencement

  • Elizabeth Dreesen


I am pleased to present this week’s Commencement Archive piece: Dr. Elizabeth Dreesen’s keynote address at the 2017 University of North Carolina School of Medicine Commencement.


Dr. Dreesen grew up in a Navy family. Before earning her M.D. at Harvard Medical School, she completed a B.A. in History and African Studies from Boston University after spending a year at the University of Nairobi. After a year as an Obstetrics and Gynecology intern, she elected to train in General Surgery and graduated from the New England Deaconess residency program in 1994. She pursued further training in Surgical Critical Care at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. After training, Dr. Dreesen and her husband started a rural General Surgery practice in western North Carolina. Dr. Dreesen has been at the University of North Carolina since 2006 and currently serves as the Chief of the Division of General and Acute Care Surgery there. She is known for her many years as a column writer for the Raleigh News and Observer, exploring experiences and issues in the world of medicine.



“Medicine isn’t just a good job, it’s a great job. It’s a complicated, bloody, hilarious, exhausting, inspiring job that will challenge you every day for the rest of your life. And jobs don’t get any better than that!â€

What a unique set of adjectives to describe a job! When you think about it, few professions accommodate such diversity. We are truly blessed and privileged. Dr. Dreesen continues, discussing the features of this amazing career:

1)    Dress comfortably—“At any given moment in medicine, somebody could throw up on you. So, as a group we dress respectably, but nothing too fancy.â€

2)    Excellent coworkers—“You’ll have coworkers who will amaze you.â€

3)    Enormous variety—“Every day is different in medicine, because every day you will meet a patient who surprises you… The breadth and variety of human experience will enrich you every day.â€

Dr. Dreesen provides a unique perspective. We often view physicians as patient advocates and leaders in their field, however we may not fully appreciate the role they can play in their communities.

“In my own case, medicine made me a pillar of the community, a leader in my town. I’d been kind of an outsider through college and medical school – the protestor demographic. I was picketing the Dean’s office over my school’s labor policies, arguing with the administration about curriculum.â€

As physicians we are privileged with a voice and a podium to make meaningful change.  We should not shy away from these opportunities.

Finally, Dr. Dreesen echoes what I believe to be the most fulfilling reason that medicine is a “good†job. 

““[Good jobs] change who you are, how you see yourself, and how others see you…In fact, a good job, a really good job, your new good job is one in which you have the opportunity to do moral good. And that is not an opportunity that every job affords.â€