For the members of the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s (WVSOM) Class of 2022, the school’s 45th annual commencement ceremony was a one-of-a-kind event.
The 197 graduates not only completed their medical school journey during a year marking the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding; it was also the first commencement ceremony for Linda Boyd, D.O., WVSOM’s vice president for academic affairs and dean. Additionally, it was the class that, four years ago, joined WVSOM at the same time longtime faculty member James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., became the school’s seventh president.
Members of the class gathered with their loved ones and WVSOM’s administration, faculty and staff under a tent on the school’s parade field. Wearing black-and-green gowns, the students crossed the stage to receive their diplomas during a ceremony that was livestreamed for those who couldn’t visit the Lewisburg campus in person.
The keynote address for the May 28 ceremony was provided by Barbara Ross-Lee, D.O., president of the American Osteopathic Foundation and a nationally recognized expert on health policy issues related to primary care, medical education, minority health, women’s health and rural health. Ross-Lee told graduates that patients, society, family and the osteopathic profession will make many demands on them as they progress in their careers.
“Your future patients will present to you in the most vulnerable status a human being can experience: a patient in need of expert help,” Ross-Lee said. “They will expect you to bridge the cultural divide between your personal beliefs and their personal beliefs. They will expect that you are worthy of their trust. They will expect you to listen, observe, promote health and function, relieve pain and suffering, and be understanding,” she said.
Ross-Lee also shared her own personal expectations for the Class of 2022, calling them “the four bes.”
“First, I expect you to be good. Do the best you can do, and be the best you can be, because someone’s life may depend on it. Second, be wise. Use your education but don’t abandon common sense, and continue to learn, because status quo is a formula for mediocrity. Third, be proud. Osteopathic medicine has succeeded against all odds to contribute value to health care. Each of you must be confident that the contributions you make to the health of this nation as an osteopathic physician are distinctive and important. Finally, be visionary. Change has been described as the only constant. Nowhere is change more evident, or more needed, than in health care,” she said.
In an introductory speech, Nemitz reminded graduates that osteopathic medicine — a form of medicine that supplements standard methods of diagnosis and treatment with hands-on techniques that help assess health, alleviate pain and restore motion — focuses on a “whole person” approach to patient care.
“You have been given a solid foundation to begin your practice of medicine, but your education at WVSOM is just the beginning,” he said. “Remember that you are part of a rich osteopathic medical tradition. Your hands can be your eyes, and your spirit and intuition can guide you as much as your mind. Remember to take care of yourself — your mind, your body and your spirit.”
Nemitz said he was especially pleased that this year’s graduates achieved a residency match rate of 99 percent under unusually challenging circumstances.
“Medical education is a difficult, demanding path at any time, but especially during the pandemic era,” Nemitz said. “Your class will always be special to me. I’ve been blessed to be connected to 33 graduating classes at this institution, but with your class, when it was your first year, it was my first year as president. For me, and hopefully for you, there’s a bond. I will always remember what happened in the spring of 2020 and how it affected your national boards, how it affected your rotations in your third year and how it affected the potential of your match. You did great in your match, against all odds. Here you are four years later, and you have made it.”
William Kohler, president of WVSOM’s Class of 2022, told his classmates they have much to be proud of, citing a number of statistics about the residencies members of the class are entering.
“We have cemented a precedent of success for all future classes,” he said. “Many of us will represent the first osteopathic physician in his or her residency, including a number of nationally acclaimed programs which WVSOM has never before reached. This will help us expand our already robust nationwide alumni network. We ourselves will represent 31 different states across the country. The class has matched 17 surgeons — the most in the school’s history — and in keeping with the vision of our school’s founders, 62 percent of you will be entering a primary care specialty.”
Upon receiving their diplomas, graduates recited the osteopathic oath, which acknowledges their transition from student to physician.