Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences Program Ph.D. recipients (from left to right) Emily Whitaker, Ph.D., Scott Vanson, Ph.D., JJ Bivona, Ph.D., Noelle Gillis, Ph.D., and Cole Davidson, Ph.D. (Photo: JJ Bivona).
The Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont celebrated 2022 master’s degree, Ph.D., and M.D. recipients on May 21 and 22. At both the Graduate College and Larner Commencement ceremonies, speakers acknowledged the hurdles these graduates had endured due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the important impact they were poised to make to ensure a better future for society. (Link to a video of the Graduate College and Larner College of Medicine Commencement ceremonies.)
The Graduate College Ceremony, held May 21 in UVM’s Gutterson Fieldhouse, was presided over by Graduate College Dean Cindy Forehand, Ph.D., a professor of neurological sciences at the Larner College of Medicine. UVM Provost Patty Prelock, Ph.D., provided a reflection, telling graduates that, “Yes, this is truly a day of celebration, but it is also a day of commitment to the future and a commitment to the important role each of you will play in creating a safe, sustainable, just, equitable, inclusive and prosperous tomorrow, not just for some – but for all." Doctoral and master’s degree recipients from the Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences, Neuroscience, Pharmacology, Medical Science, and Public Health graduate programs were hooded at the event.
On May 22, 118 members of the medical Class of 2022 heard remarks from Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., UVM Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Isabelle Desjardins, M.D., keynote speaker Senator Bernie Sanders, student speaker Francis Mtuke, and Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Christa Zehle, M.D. Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., professor of medicine, and Patrick Clarke, M.D.’22, served as Faculty Marshal and Student Marshal, respectively, at the ceremony.
In his welcome remarks, Page said, “Hard work and long hours come with medical education, but nobody predicted you would become a doctor amid the greatest worldwide health crisis in a century.” He added that, “You, the Class of 2022, are the clearest indicators … of better times ahead … You’ve gained incomparable experience in helping to fight a pandemic … you have shown commitment, compassion and professionalism.”
Desjardins encouraged the new doctors to stay humble and keep their patients at the center of all of their decisions. “You are entering medicine at a time when the amount of new knowledge to acquire far exceeds anyone’s capacity to retain it,” she said. “You will have to remain curious, constantly challenging yourself to keep your mind open. There will be moments … when you don’t know what else to do or to say … these are the moments when integrity, and humanity, will matter most.”
While he opened by congratulating the medical Class of 2022 on their “incredible efforts to be where you are today,” Sanders asked the graduates for something “above and beyond your skills as physicians,” in his capacity as chair of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security. He told them that, “The overall healthcare system in which you all will be practicing is a system which is dysfunctional, extraordinarily wasteful and expensive, and cruel,” and said, “I am asking you, as physicians, to lead the effort to fundamentally change that system.”
After Sanders’ address, Zehle recognized the medical student Class of 2022 and then graduating senior Francis Mtuke, M.D., delivered the Student Address.
Born in Zimbabwe, Mtuke credits his mother with courageously journeying nearly 10,000 miles away to take a chance on a new life in the United States, where her hard work led to a career as a nurse. Inspired by his mother, Mtuke has embraced opportunities, graduating from Texas A&M University, attending medical school in Vermont, and is now on the cusp of becoming an anesthesiologist, a field in which he says he will be “one of the mere 2.6 percent of anesthesiologists that are black males.” Mtuke says his story is not unique, and that he and his classmates have reached this point – achieving their M.D. – because they took a chance on the Larner College of Medicine and the college took a chance on each of them.
Mtuke told his classmates, “Because of the chance we took, thousands of war veterans, mothers, fitness instructors, authors, chefs, musicians, athletes, and so many more will have a chance taken on them. A chance taken by doctors who … were also given the opportunity to hone in on the intangibles of being a physician: namely compassion, empathy, and dedication to service.”
After Mtuke’s speech, each member of the medical Class of 2022 marched across the stage in UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel to be hooded with their black four-foot-long doctoral degree hood lined in green velvet with a gold chevron – the official UVM colors – and receive their diplomas.
Among the medical students who participated in the May 22 ceremony are Gia Eapen, M.D., and Sylvia Lane, M.D.
In March 2020, as the pandemic was raging, an emergency room nurse from UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay launched a grassroots initiative in San Francisco called Frontline Foods that quickly went national. The organization united hospitals with area restaurants to feed healthcare workers. With their clinical clerkships on hold due to the shut-down, Eapen and Lane were eager to help, and took on responsibility for marketing and social media for the Vermont chapter directed by local nurse Sheramy Tsai, R.N. Now, two years later, Eapen is headed to an obstetrics/gynecology residency at Case Western Reserve MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and Lane will be doing a medicine-pediatrics residency at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
At the Larner College of Medicine Commencement, medical graduates have the option to have a “guest hooder” – a Larner alum or faculty member who places the UVM M.D. hood over their head just before they receive their diplomas. Class of 2022 soon-to-be-doctor Anna Quinlan will have the unique privilege of being hooded by her brother, UVM Larner Class of 2017 alum Noah Quinlan, M.D., a fifth-year orthopedic surgery resident at the University of Utah. Raised in New Jersey and Richmond, Vt., Anna Quinlan was interested in both science and art and considered pursuing careers that combined the two. Learning about her brother’s medical school experience opened her eyes to the creative aspects of the field and led her to pursue medicine. Anna chose to specialize in anesthesiology, which she describes as “highly creative,” and will begin her residency at UVM Medical Center in June.
At the close of the Larner College of Medicine Commencement Ceremony, Dean Page administered “The Oath,” leading the Class of 2022 medical graduates in a reading of the College’s adapted version of the Oath of Lasagna of 1964 (see the full text of The Oath in the program via the link, below).
Link to the UVM Larner College of Medicine Commencement program.