Collier’s speech included three pieces of advice to assist the students in their careers. First, she told the crowd that “you are not a machine and neither is your patient,” emphasizing that “machines and robots can’t care for anyone.”
“Task completion is not care,” she added.
In her second piece of advice, she encouraged the students to ask “big questions,” such as “What does it mean to be human?”, “Why do human beings matter?”, “What is health?”, and “What is medicine and what is it for?”
She noted that philosophical questions “are largely absent in the practice of medicine” and added that medicine “needs a philosophical lens to be able to see why medicine knows what it knows and does what it does.”
Her third piece of advice was to practice gratitude. She said the medical profession will provide the students many occasions “to be acquainted with grief.”
“But in becoming acquainted with grief, you will hopefully develop an appreciation for what truly matters and what doesn’t,” she said.
“Not infrequently at this hospital there are cars in our parking garages left behind from when someone has walked into this place and never walked back out,” she said.
She also shared a story of her residency, when a fellow resident became ill. The efforts of the institution could not save his life, she said.
“Collectively, we lost the deeply held belief that medicine could be our savior,” she said. “What had happened, in part, is that many of us had made medicine into what theologians call an idol. We had placed unrealistic hope onto something that medicine didn’t deserve and couldn’t live up to. When our idols come crashing down, pain ensues.”
She shared that she has since grown to understand the limits of medicine.
“The suffering can either harden you and make you into a burned-out machine,” she said, “or you can allow the vocation to soften you, to cultivate compassion, love, justice, and mercy. Let medicine do the latter of the two.”
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