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Year of firsts for School of Medicine’s graduating class
By Carole Bartoo
May 19, 2011

Members of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine's class of 2011, perhaps more than any other class in recent memory, were agents of change.

They ushered in a new curriculum and worked to help improve it - all while being noted for their friendliness, collegiality and for the number of them who ended up as couples.

In his commencement address, Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, told the 96 new physicians and graduates from other VUSM programs that, while they have now gained quite a bit of medical knowledge, their next challenge is even more important: to establish trust with their patients.

He told the crowd at Langford Auditorium that, while physicians have great knowledge and an excellent system backing them up, they can still fail to influence patients.

"The World Health Organization estimates at least half the patients in developed countries like ours do not comply with the treatment regimens we give them. So how can we inspire trust? We must demonstrate respect and transparency," Balser said.

Respect and transparency were lessons graduate Charles Phillips, M.D., learned first-hand. Phillips began medical school just two weeks after surgery to remove testicular cancer. Throughout his first set of classes he was half-patient, half-student, enduring radiation treatments.

He said his fellow students and teachers showed him great support and caring, like the time Neil Osheroff, M.D., met him at Light Hall at 5 p.m. on a Sunday to personally give Phillips a test he had missed because of nausea from radiation.

"And then on my last day of radiation, even though everyone had a test the next day, (classmate) Alon Peltz spearheaded a party for me. Dean (Scott) Rodgers funded it and over a hundred people showed up - basically the whole class. It was the nicest thing anyone ever did for me," Phillips said.

He and fellow classmate Lara Hershcovitch, M.D., will marry on May 21 and then prepare for residencies here at Vanderbilt.

Piotr Pilarski, this year's Founder's medalist for the School of Medicine, said he is thrilled he will be staying at Vanderbilt for his Internal Medicine residency. Pilarski said he selected VUSM partly because students were encouraged to become involved in curriculum design projects. He is especially glad to have served on the student curriculum committee as well as co-founding The Vanderbilt Healthcare Improvement Group (VHIG).

And Pilarski said his involvement won't end after graduation.

"Vanderbilt made it possible for us to develop a quality improvement and patient safety organization for management, medical and nursing students, and I'll do whatever I can to continue to support VHIG's efforts," Pilarski said.

Billy McSwain M.D., represented the ultimate in family tradition at the graduation ceremony. He crossed the stage to receive his diploma from his father, George Randle McSwain, II, M.D.'74, becoming the first fifth-generation legacy graduate. McSwain's grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather - a "horse and buggy" doctor in Paris, Tenn. - all graduated from VUSM. Barton McSwain, M.D.'30, a renowned pathology professor at Vanderbilt, was his great uncle.

"I grew up thinking I would never go into medicine, but once I decided on this path, I was simply looking for a great school where I could study medicine and my wife could go to divinity school," McSwain said.

Mary Beth McSwain, M.Div.'10, and her husband joke that one day their children will feel the pull of the legacy.

"It has been a great, great experience for us," McSwain said with a smile.

Also graduating from the School of Medicine were: nine Doctors of Audiology, seven Masters of Education of the Deaf, eleven Masters of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, 12 Masters of Public Health, 12 Masters of Clinical Investigation, three Masters of Laboratory Investigation and six Masters of Science in Medical Physics students.
Seven M.D./Ph.D. students graduated as well as one M.D./MBA student.


 
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