Jerald Wayne Strickland, Interim Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, University of Houston
Curator Ream, Chancellor George, Provost Cope, Dean Davis, distinguished faculty, graduates, friends and family members, I am so pleased to be with you on this special occasion.
Thank you Dean Davis for the wonderful introduction, and I bring warm wishes from my University to the 2005 graduates, their families and guests, and to the faculty and administration of the College of Optometry. I am especially pleased to join University of Missouri System Curator, Dr. Anne Ream, Dean Larry Davis and the faculty to celebrate this most important event in the life of an optometrist, the sudden and abrupt change from professional student to doctor.
Graduates, it is a very high order privilege and distinct honor for me to address you today, and I am humbled by your collective accomplishments as students, as clinicians and as citizens.
The 28 women and 16 men who are members of the Class of 2005 come from thirteen (13) states. You joined this fine university and college four years ago as eager students with strong academic backgrounds and collegial spirits. I checked with the dean and a few members of your class earlier today and I am happy to report that your spirits have not been broken, nor your intellectual curiosity diminished.
One could rate the approximately 1,200 members of the Optometry Class of 2005 across this nation as the best we have graduated, indeed with the many changes in our practicing profession and consequently in the preparatory curriculum one can feel quite safe in making such a statement at this and, hopefully, subsequent commencements.
In addition to these accolades, one should realize that only 1/100th of 1 percent of the world's population achieves the doctoral level of education. Therefore, from a global perspective, this is truly a remarkable achievement.
I read recently that brevity, humor and celebrity are important in graduation speeches. If I can do one out of three, I feel I have accomplished my goal.
I want to tell you a story and share a simple message with you.
Mrs. Brown was a longtime patient of mine at the University Eye Institute. We had worked through systemic and eye diseases and related conditions over about 8 years. She was a regular, annual patient who felt comfortable about calling me when she had questions and sharing with me issues related to her healthcare needs. We had dealt with open angle glaucoma, cataract surgery, diabetes, hypertension and frequent changes in her refractive error.
About 4 years ago I received one of those regular phone calls but this time there was sadness in her voice. Remember, I was the one person of only a few with whom she shared her health and vision problems and sometimes personal problems. I was "Her Eye Doctor" and we had long ago passed the cross cultural communication barrier.
As we talked, Mrs. Brown began to cry as she shared the fact that her health insurance and subsequent Medicare changes would no longer pay for her visits nor the diagnostic and therapeutic services that I prescribed. Although commonplace today, these sudden and often traumatic changes in medical service providers disregard the importance of trust, understanding and respect developed over time between patient and doctor. This scenario happens only too often where this important relationship between doctor and patient is strained and often severed due to impersonal and external factors.
The story of Mrs. Brown has been repeated tens of thousands of times in optometry, medicine, dentistry, osteopathy, podiatry, pharmacy, etc. For many, the doctor-patient relationship has been replaced with impersonal third party shepherding of patients from provider to provider. Many of you have experienced this disruption in your healthcare.
Mrs. Brown did still stay in touch with me, about once every year, with a phone call to me or my staff bringing us up-to-date on her health and vision problems. She had many doctors over those years. The reason I tell you this story is to demonstrate and emphasize to you that trust, understanding and respect are powerful magnets for doctors and their patients. A breach of these will likely repel. Good doctor-patient relationships are built on honesty and integrity and withstand external pressures, influences and even misunderstandings. A trusting doctor-patient relationship is not easily disturbed, and we see in the example of my patient, Mrs. Brown, it can prevail.
I was sure when Mrs. Brown did have a choice to return to me as her eye doctor, she would bring her family and friends.
Well, it happened! About 2 years ago, during our annual phone call, she seemed excited and most cheerful-"Doctor, I have made an appointment to see you next month, the insurance tides have turned."
This brings to mind a truism from the American frontier: "Honesty and integrity are not something you should flirt with-you should be married to them."
Honesty, trust, compassion, fairness, patience, understanding, respect, dignity, confidentiality, good citizenship, charity and beneficence are most worthy traits for all citizens, but they are mandatory traits for those of us who occupy positions of high responsibility for human and health services. This is not a case where 80% or even 90% of those attributes is acceptable-it's 100%-much like take-offs and landings and action potentials, it's all or none.
Most persons have a tincture of each of these traits, but for the healthcare provider it is an imperative to have a large therapeutic and preventive dose.
If one samples patients regarding the traits of the "best doctors" they know or have experienced, each of the previously noted virtues can be found. Patients want and expect their doctors to be professionally virtuous and to be model citizens.
You will soon take the "Optometric Oath" which allows you to state before family, friends, colleagues and your faculty, your ethical and professional convictions.
In the 4th century B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates, the "Father of Medicine," laid out common sense ethical principles which are known to all of us in the health professions. They deal with respect, fairness, justice, confidentiality, honesty and quality of care. "The Hippocratic Oath."
Sound familiar? Yes, and after 17 centuries.
There is one somewhat lesser known component of the Hippocratic Oath; it is "Respect for your teachers." Simply stated, Hippocrates wrote and pledged: "To hold him (or now her) who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him (her)."
For your distinguished and patient faculty members who have played roles as teacher, mentor and counselor in your career, continue this relationship and trust and respect them and the institution which has embraced you for four years.
Another truism from the American frontier: "When you get to where you are goin', the first thing to do is take care of the horse you rode in on."
There are few things in higher education that reach the level of pride and satisfaction for a faculty member than to share one's knowledge, skill and experience with others who will go forth and practice (and teach others).
Back to Mrs. Brown. She taught me important lessons in doctor-patient relations-ones that work, ones, which I hope you will embrace, and practice--- honesty, integrity, understanding, respect and trust.
Congratulations and best wishes and stay the course and lead the profession of optometry to new heights, and remember Mrs. Brown, every patient can be a Mrs. Brown.
Finally, you are now entering the ranks of the optometric profession with our high expectation that you will continue the leadership traditions of Irvin Borish, Anne Ream, Jack Bennett, Larry Davis, your distinguished faculty, and your state and national optometric leaders.
I challenge each of you to distinguish yourself in all aspects of the profession. I promise you the result will indeed be fulfilling and rewarding. "Bite off more than you can chew and chew it!"
I leave you with some advice from the sage and plainspoken Will Rogers: "Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment," and "Never miss a good chance to shut up" It has been an honor to be with you today.