From the dean: doing hard things well, including being well

June 6, 2018

Dean Sharon Anderson at commencement 2018This is Dean Sharon Anderson's address from the 2018 OHSU School of Medicine M.D. Hooding Ceremony.

Good afternoon, my name is Sharon Anderson and I am the dean of the OHSU School of Medicine. It is truly my pleasure to welcome you to the Hooding Ceremony for the OHSU School of Medicine, M.D. Class of 2018.

Before I say a few words to our graduates, I want to say something to their family and friends.

Thank you.

I know that for many of you here today, the dream that your students are about to realize has been a shared dream, one for which you have put your own needs aside in order to make possible. Your steadfast belief in your students has been the wind in their sails. You helped them get through.

I also want to thank our teaching faculty, medical school leadership and staff.

I want to acknowledge that in the extremely demanding clinical world, it has become increasingly challenging for our faculty to carve out time to teach.

Your commitment to giving back and to keeping your own skills on the cutting edge by teaching the next generation is exemplary.

My gratitude extends to our many volunteer faculty, community providers and alumni who give their time to teach in the medical school.

And I want to add that for this class, like no other, the faculty and staff were not only our students' mentors, leaders, teachers and fan club, they were learning alongside our students as they ushered in the YOUR M.D. curriculum.

Now I have some words for our students.


You did it.

Medical school is hard. It was when I went through, back in another lifetime, and it has only gotten more so.

Yet you have not only surmounted the everyday challenges of medical school; you have learned to do some very hard things well.

As part of the new curriculum, you have actually been tested on your ability to deliver bad news to patients and families.

You participated in a simulated encounter and had to show your compassion and clear communication skills in real time.

There is nothing more elemental in medicine than the moment that you have to acknowledge that there is nothing more you can do for your patient. 

Even harder still is recognizing that there is more you could do, but doing it is likely to create misery for the patient and not significantly lengthen life. 

I am a nephrologist who has treated kidney disease my whole career.

No one taught me that I could actually discuss with a patient, who had already been through a lot and is near the end of their life, that going on dialysis may not be worth it to them. But I learned to have those conversations because, ultimately, it is my responsibility to help my patients not only have a good life, but a good end of life.

You are starting your career in medicine knowing that being a compassionate communicator in the hardest of moments is a part of being an excellent physician. Your patients – and their loved ones – are counting on you and, because of your preparation, I know you will not let them down.

You are also doing other hard things well.

You and the classes following you have found your voices.

You've taken a stand for access to healthcare and against gun violence.

You have participated in Health Equity Week, providing free, basic medical care to people in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

You have gotten involved with the Bridges Collaborative Care Clinic, an entirely student run clinic that students across OHSU launched last fall to provide health screenings and primary care coordination for residents living in transitional housing.

And you are tackling some of the hardest topics.

You talk openly about institutional racism. About hardship and injustice for immigrants. About gender. About sexual abuse and harassment. And about your role as physicians in all of these things.

In doing so, you call out and hold to a higher standard all of us who came before you and were less equipped to do as you are doing.

But there is one really hard lesson that I am pretty certain you still need to learn:

You must learn to harness the incredible drive and passion that brought you to this moment of becoming a doctor. To truly succeed in taking care of others, you must also take care of yourself.

You must learn to recognize when you need a break and then you must take that break. I am the Dean of the School of Medicine. Consider my words your hall pass.

Because of the many hard things I have seen you do, I believe that you can do this too. You will help expand the national movement to reconnect with the joy in our work as physicians.

Use your passion as your beacon. Use it not only to care for your patients but also to go take a hike, get on your bike, listen to music, call up a friend.

In closing, on this day, I wish to offer you not only my congratulations but my gratitude. For the ways that you are, and the ways that you will, shape our profession and improve the care of all patients.

Before I return the microphone to Dr. Bumsted, I just want to repeat how proud I am of you and how pleased I am to be here to recognize your accomplishments and join your families and friends in celebrating this very special day. 

Read our full coverage of the 2018 OHSU Convocation and School of Medicine Hooding Ceremonies.