Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little

Remarks to the University of Kansas Medical Center White Coat Ceremony

Friday, July 30, 2010

Remarks as prepared for delivery

I know this address is usually given by a physician so I want to state at the top that I am not an M.D. I am a doctor, but not the kind of doctor you're training to become.

But while my degree is a Ph.D. and not a M.D., through the study and practice of psychology I have spent much of my life learning about how to understand and help people.

I've also spent a fair amount of time with doctors. As provost at the University of North Carolina I interacted with numerous faculty members from the medical school, and many of them were physicians.

So between what I've learned as a psychologist and what I've learned from working with talented physicians like Dr. Atkinson and her colleagues, I feel comfortable sharing with you my thoughts on what we're expecting of you – and what you should expect from yourselves – in the coming years.

And I'll start by telling a story about a recent experience I had with a doctor – not as a psychologist or a university administrator, but as a patient.

I was consulting with him about a various approaches to a treatment procedure and asked him what his recommendation was. And he prefaced his answer by saying, "If it were my daughter or sister, then I would recommend..."

Now, in his answer he demonstrated two very important qualities.

He demonstrated caring by relating to me as he would relate to a family member. That reassured me and helped build the patient-doctor relationship.

And he demonstrated social intelligence by using "daughter or sister" and not saying "If it were my mother..."

As physicians, you will be called on to demonstrate both knowledge and caring throughout your career. There is no substitute for either.

On the knowledge side you have selected an excellent place to attend medical school and are to be congratulated for making it through the highly competitive process to reach this moment.

The men and women of the KU Medical Center are engaged in the study and treatment of the full spectrum of conditions and maladies that afflict us as humans. From neonatal care, to cancer treatment, to late-life conditions such as Alzheimer's, our academic medical center is at the forefront of learning and discovery.

You are becoming part of a community of scholar physicians, and under their guidance you will gain the knowledge that will enable you to heal your patients.

But at the same time as they are instilling in you the facts and figures that form the basis for modern medicine, they will also be preparing you to actually practice medicine.

That preparation is just as vital as you will be interacting with patients and families during some of the most difficult times in their lives – sometimes at the end of their lives. Even if you plan to become a research physician you will still interact with patients during your career.

Being able to relate your knowledge and expertise in a way that demonstrates your genuine concern for your patients will be critical to your success as physicians. And that's not just because few of us would recommend to a friend a doctor who is "really smart, but a real jerk."

Bedside manner matters. Patients will be more comfortable with you, meaning they will be more open with you. And patients will trust you, meaning they will be more likely to follow your advice.

Any field that involves working with people, trying to get them to behave in particular ways, presents its own special challenges. That goes for medicine, too. The human factor will always be a variable, whether it is because of a patient's physiology or psyche.

So being able to relate to patients, getting to a point where you understand them and they understand you, is so vitally important.

It is also important to recognize that your responsibility to your patients does not just end with your patients. Even if you intend to be a sole practitioner in a small town in western Kansas, you are part of a health care system.

That system includes nurses and allied health professionals, pharmacists, social workers, therapists and a wide range of care givers. And if you've been to the doctor lately, you know it also includes insurance claims reviewers, electronic records technicians and billing specialists.

It is no longer a case of a single doctor caring for his or her patients in a standalone office, or even during house calls. You are going to be part of a team. That benefits patients by bringing in the expertise and capabilities of a broader group of professions.

But it also adds a layer of complexity and even frustration, especially when some members of that team have different views on the sort of treatment appropriate for your patients. Sometimes those different views stem from varying opinions on the efficacy of a treatment, but sometimes they stem from the perceived costs involved. Advocating for the best interests of his or her patients is an important of a doctor's job description.

And of course all of this is taking place in a health care system that is itself changing as a result of national health insurance reform. Regardless of what you think about the reforms that were passed, it was clear our nation's health care system was on an unsustainable path and changes were needed.

Time will tell what effects these changes will have, but it seems certain that they will result in more Americans having health insurance. That alone will increase the demand for your talents and will create new challenges for you and your colleagues.

But through it all it is important to remember that your patients will not see you as just one part of a huge health care system or part of a team from different specialties. They will see you as their doctor. They will see you as the person they turn to when they are sick or injured and need help.

Remembering that will help you fulfill one more element of your profession, which is the social mission of being a physician.

The KU Medical Center is among the best in the nation when it comes to fulfilling the social mission of medicine. The School of Medicine was ranked in the top five of all 141 American medical schools on how well it trains doctors to meet the health care needs of the nation.

It earned that ranking by training doctors who go on to practice in areas where there are a shortage of physicians, as well as by training doctors who enter primary medicine or who come from underrepresented backgrounds.

That tells me that the faculty and staff of the medical school have been very successful in imparting the true mission of medicine to the students who have come before you. They have been successful in training doctors who possess both knowledge and caring, and who always put their patients' well-being ahead of all other concerns.

Now it is your turn.

As you today don what has been called the "cloak of compassion" I challenge you to live up to the proud tradition that has been established by your predecessors and by the men and women who will help you take this next step in your careers.

Learn from them and from each other as you begin what may end up being the most difficult, but also most rewarding time of your lives.

Don't forget your friends and family, many of whom are here today, possibly because they think it is the last time they will see you for a while.

Remember why you got into medicine in the first place – not for the title or the prestige, but out of a desire to help people.

And always remember, when in doubt, "sister" or "daughter" almost always goes over better than "mother."

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this special day and for your commitment to the health and well-being of others! Congratulations on being selected to take this journey at KU and best of luck!



One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.

KU is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to ensure the university is ranked among the top tier of public international research universities.

Through Bold Aspirations, our strategic plan, we're changing the way we prepare students for success. We're fostering research and scholarship across all disciplines. And we're sharing the benefits of a flagship university with our state and world.

This effort is supported by Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, as well as our initiative to reduce administrative costs, Changing for Excellence.