A message to the Class of 2020

June 4, 2020

An open letter to my department's graduates.

An open letter to my department's graduates.

“And so, to all you graduates...

as you go out into the world

my advice to you is...don’t go!

It’s rough out there. Move back with your 

parents. Let them worry about it!”

-Thornton Melon (played by Rodney Dangerfield) in Back to School

 

Dear Class of 2020 Residency Graduates (aka soon-to-be PGY-5s) and Graduating Fellows:

For the first time in the 95-year history of our institute, we will have no large public gathering to mark the completion of the final year of residency training and allow your faculty (now colleagues) to wish you continued success in person. 

We will miss the chance during the cocktail hour to shake your hands and those of your family and friends who have supported you during your years of hard work in medical school, internship, and residency that got you to this point. We will miss the chance to share a delicious meal together with you and a few hundred of your friends. We will miss the speeches, humorous anecdotes, baby photos, embarrassing comments, and laughs that always seem to come up each year at this event.

What we won’t miss is “The Skit,” in which residents use their musical, vocal, and dancing skills to poke fun at the foibles and idiosyncrasies of the chairman and professors. (OK, maybe the jokes about the professors are funny-but not those about the chairman!)

But mostly, we will simply miss you. This has been a remarkable year for your class, for American ophthalmology, and for medicine in general.  

In some ways, this coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic reminds me of the appearance of a mysterious illness that popped up when I was a resident. Now known as AIDS, that illness had a number of ophthalmic manifestations.

No one knew what caused it or how it was spread, and there were no effective therapies. Many physicians, nurses, and the public were scared. Some projections said this new disease would kill one-third of the world’s population.

Related: Echoes of history: COVID-19 pandemic stirs memories, tests our mettle

Of course, biomedical science rose to that challenge, and today, seeing a patient who is HIV positive is more or less a non-event.  

A result of the need to protect patients and health care workers and save protective equipment, the number of nonurgent surgical procedures you will have completed in residency is less than projected. This is a non-issue. You will be constantly learning and mastering new techniques in the OR over the coming decades of your career. Ten years from now, you will neither remember nor care how many procedures you performed as a resident.

This is the opportunity for an old person (ie, me) to pass on to the graduating youth (ie, you) the secrets for subsequent success in your careers. I have to tell you that the secret is that there is no secret.

The qualities that allowed you to excel in medical school, secure a competitive residency training position, and perform so well as residents are qualities that will ensure your future success.  

You have worked very hard all along, and that work ethic will continue to stand you in good stead. Your love of learning will allow you to welcome the opportunity to master new technologies and surgical procedures that inevitably will come along in our highly innovative specialty.

Related: Coronavirus response: Generations react differently to COVID-19

You have delayed gratification along the way, and that quality will allow you to resist the urge to rush out and buy the unnecessary material goods (a luxury car, an excessively large home) that others will tell you are required possessions of “rich doctors” like you.  

The gift of being able to help others is what attracted you to a career in medicine and keeping that first and foremost will help you when things like pandemics come along and your fellow citizens look to you for help and reassurance in their hour of need.

Finally, this experience with “lockdowns” and “social distancing” will allow you to fully appreciate the joy of being with friends, family, and patients whenever possible. 

Rodney Dangerfield was right-it can be rough out there. But it can also be astonishing, rewarding, humbling, and a lot of fun. You’ll be fine. And, please, stay in touch. 

Read more editorials by Dr. McDonnell