For 179 graduates, four demanding years of lectures, labs, exams and clinical rotations finally paid off. On a crisp spring morning on the campus of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) in Lewisburg, W.Va., another class of medical students officially became physicians.
One year after the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift to a virtual commencement ceremony, WVSOM was able to return to an in-person event, modified to accommodate the need for continued safety precautions. Participation in the ceremony was optional for those earning their degree, and guests were scattered inside campus buildings where they watched via livestream.
On May 29, graduates were honored at WVSOM’s 44th annual commencement ceremony. Members of the Class of 2021, clad in black-and-green gowns, gathered to receive their diplomas and listen to statements prepared by the school’s president, the class president and this year’s keynote speaker, Craig Boisvert, D.O., FACOFP, WVSOM’s vice president for academic affairs and dean, who will retire this summer after more than 33 years with the school.
In his address, Boisvert commented on the complications students faced in completing medical school during a pandemic. He noted that this year’s class was forced to transition from in-person rotations to online due to a scarcity of personal protective equipment, and that travel restrictions further constrained clinical experiences.
“Many of you were extremely limited in ‘out’ rotations this past year as hospitals attempted to decrease the spread of COVID by limiting the travel of medical students. Yet 97 percent of you were able to get residencies and have jobs starting in July,” Boisvert said. “It’s now time to look at what the future might have in store for you — planning for your careers, perhaps getting married, starting a family or adding to your family, starting to pay off student loans and eventually, as now I am, looking at retirement.”
Despite the challenges the world has been through, Boisvert said, new physicians must be prepared to respond to changing circumstances and be willing to lead the medical profession in the years ahead. He called on graduates to commit themselves to a life of selflessness and courage.
“We entered medicine because we wanted to be able to help others. Yet too often we sit and think about what others can do for us and fail to think about what we can do for them,” Boisvert said. “You may not know it, but the future of medicine, the health care system and medical education lies in your hands. … You will find that at times you are presented opportunities that you might not be eager to take on, but you realize at the time you’re the best person to take on that challenge based on the situation. Will you fear the future and refuse the challenge, or will you take on the future and shape it?”
Evan Tyree, president of WVSOM’s Class of 2021, also spoke of the obstacles WVSOM students faced in earning medical degrees during a global health crisis. He expressed hope that the confidence gained from overcoming these difficulties would help prepare class members for an uncertain future.
“It would be nice to say the next phase of this journey will be easy: We did the hard work, got the ‘doctor’ title and it’s smooth sailing from here. While that might be nice, that is not what being a doctor is about. This career is about striving to always learn, to continue improving ourselves with the goal of providing the best possible care for the people whose lives depend on us. Perhaps it was good that our road through medical school was littered with as many obstacles as it was. We’ll be faced with more hurdles as we transition into our new roles as physicians,” Tyree said.
James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s president, praised students for their resilience and their dedication to osteopathic medicine, noting that WVSOM has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s best medical schools for 23 consecutive years. He urged students not to shrink from adversity.
“I know you are proud of what you have accomplished both as a class and individually, as you should be,” Nemitz told graduates. “I am confident that you will continue to represent yourselves and WVSOM with the same level of enthusiasm, service and professionalism that you have demonstrated these past four years. … I hope every day you wake up and try to do your best. Some days you will succeed and other days you won’t. That is why we are given another day.”
After class members received their diplomas, Boisvert led them in reciting the osteopathic oath, which acknowledges a graduate’s transition from student to physician.