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New Generation of Military Healthcare Providers Graduates

President Thomas shakes a graduate's hand

USU Celebrates 39th Commencement

By Sarah Marshall

It wasn’t just mortarboards and tassels thrown in the air at the Uniformed Services University’s commencement exercise on Armed Forces Day.  Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. James B. Peake, the keynote speaker, threw eggs into the crowd of graduates.

The keynote speaker holds an egg
Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. James B. Peake, a retired
Army LTG, was the keynote speaker at the USU 2018
Commencement ceremony. He used eggs as a metaphor for
the patients that the graduates will soon care for - and he
grabbed their attention by throwing a hard boiled egg into the
crowd. (Photo by Tom Balfour)
Peake, a retired Army lieutenant general, grabbed the audience’s attention by first taking out a bowl of eggs, which he compared to the patients they will soon care for – full of richness and the essence of life. While they are strong on the outside, he said, they can also be fragile.

“[These patients] are going to come to you when they are most fragile, when they are ill, when they may be broken … You will use all the tools, and the acumen, and the knowledge, and the empathy that you have developed at this university, and that you will continue to develop in your careers of lifelong learning, to make them well … in some cases to put them back together,” Peake said. He then threw a hardboiled egg into the crowd – a move he said he hoped would make his speech and words of advice, memorable.

While he used the eggs as a metaphor for their future patients, he explained that they could be used as a metaphor for another important piece of their lives – they are also like the organizations and the units they will join and one day lead. They, too, are full of goodness and richness, and full of life and capability, he said. Again, he told the graduates that they will use all of the tools, knowledge, and empathy, and leadership skills developed at USU, while serving in those organizations – and they will make a difference in those units, ensuring they are strong and able to accomplish the mission.

And this goes for the entire class, he said, recognizing all of the graduating physicians, nurses, dentists, as well as civilians who earned doctorates and other advanced degrees.

The deans and other officials on stage at graduation
On stage, from left to right, during the Uniformed Services University's (USU) 2018 Commencement: Dr. Ronald Blanck, chair of USU's Board of Regents, Dr. Ar Kellermann, dean of USU's F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Dr. Carol Romano, dean of USU's Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing, Dr. Thomas Schneid, executive dean of USU's Postgraduate Dental College, Dr. Mitchell Seal, dean of USU's College of Allied Health Sciences, Mr. Thomas McCaffery, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and Army Col. Jerome Buller, USU Brigade Commander. (Photo by Tom Balfour)

Peake also recognized the importance of what he referred to as the double Os: obligation and opportunity.  He explained that the graduates really have two professions – medicine and the military, which come with rights and responsibilities. These professions come with a certain deference to the education that they worked hard for, and because of that, they are respected for their special knowledge. In return, they are obligated to provide their services to that society.

“You owe the use of those special skills and knowledge to make them better, to lift them up … and it is also an obligation to behave ethically,” Peake added. “Professions by their nature are self-policing, if you will, so you have a responsibility to participate in that aspect in your professions.”

In addition to these obligations, Peake explained the unique opportunities that lie ahead.

“I can’t think of a better time to come into medicine,” Peake said. “What an exciting time.”

He explained that medicine is at a tipping point, moving from the industrial age to the digital age.

Dean Romano shakes a student's hand at graduation
More than 340 uniformed and civilian professionals received their medical, graduate nursing, biomedical science, public health and clinical psychology degrees during USU's Commencement Ceremony. (Photo by Tom Balfour)

“You have telemedicine in your curriculum – that wasn’t even a word when I was in medical school,” he said.

During this new age of medicine, there are many advances being made, such as personalized medicine, and new techniques in surgery.  Military medicine continues to re-organize and re-shape to try to better understand its mission, he said.

“My advice to you is to seek those opportunities, open those doors, walk through them, whether it’s taking on a new scientific endeavor, taking leadership of a department, or a unique assignment … and as you do, you will develop new networks of friends, new professional colleagues. You will find new cultures to understand, perhaps new countries to visit, and you will continue to grow personally.”

Finally, Peake expressed his gratitude for the graduates and what they will accomplish in the future.

“Thank you for what you will do for our patients, for what you will do for military medicine, what you will do for our nation,” Peake said.

The Surgeons General on stage at graduation
From left to right: U.S. Public Health Service Rear Adm. Erica Schwartz, director of Health, Safety and Work-Life, United States Coast Guard; Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ediger, Air Force surgeon general; Vice Adm. Forrest Faison, Navy surgeon general; Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Army surgeon general; and Mr. Thomas McCaffery, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. (Photo by Tom Balfour)

More than 340 uniformed and civilian professionals received their medical, graduate nursing, biomedical science, public health and clinical psychology degrees during the May 19 ceremony, which took place at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C.  Graduates from USU’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine included 159 Doctor of Medicine degrees and 62 Masters, Doctor of Public Health and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.  USU’s Daniel K. Inouye Graduate School of Nursing conferred 46 Doctor of Nursing Practice degrees and three Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Science degrees. USU’s Postgraduate Dental College will confer 77 Master of Science in Oral Biology degrees during separate ceremonies this summer.
Steeped in tradition, USU’s commencement exercise is one of the most unique graduation ceremonies in the nation. Graduates in uniform are active duty officers in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force or Public Health Service. After they cross the stage in academic regalia and receive their diplomas, USU’s graduates exit the stage and change back into their military uniforms. Graduating medical students return to recite their respective service commissioning oath, led individually by each Surgeon General. They are then promoted to their next rank.