A graduate waves to loved ones at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine’s 38th annual Commencement ceremony on May 6.

A graduate in the Heritage College class of 2017 calls out a greeting, while waiting outside Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium for the Commencement ceremony to begin.

Photographer: Rich-Joseph Facun

Heritage College graduates pose for a photo following Commencement exercises at OHIO’s Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.

A group of Commencement participants lines up for one of many photos taken to commemorate the event.

Photographer: Rich-Joseph Facun

Members of the Heritage College’s Class of 2017 listen to Commencement speaker Karen J. Nichols, D.O., dean of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University.

The auditorium was packed with graduating students, friends and family members.

Photographer: Rich-Joseph Facun

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Graduating D.O.s: Keep it caring and honest with their patients

For osteopathic physicians, patient care is all about empathy.

That was the message delivered Saturday to the 2017 graduating class of physicians and surgeons during the 38th annual Commencement ceremony for the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium.

Commencement speaker Karen J. Nichols, D.O., dean of the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine at Midwestern University and the first woman to serve as president of the American Osteopathic Association, quoted Francis W. Peabody, M.D., who famously closed a lecture to Harvard students in 1925 by advising them that “the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”

Nichols said she learned the truth of this adage while training to be a doctor and practicing as an internal medicine physician. She recalled a woman who “literally jumped off the table and gave me this big bear hug” when Nichols entered the exam room. 

Nine years earlier, Nichols had cared for the woman’s mother as she lay dying in a hospital. The sick woman had been cold, so Nichols had brought her a warm blanket and tucked her in. She died in her sleep that night, and her daughter vowed to one day become Nichols’ patient so she could thank her in person.

The lesson? “Sympathy is when you feel bad for some patient,” Nichols explained. “Empathy is when you feel bad with that patient. Empathy is very important.”

Nichols stressed that “I don’t want to diminish the incredible body of knowledge that you have embraced in your time here.” But as important as expertise, she said, is the sincerity that makes patients feel they can trust a physician. And, she warned, studies show that typically a patient makes this judgement within the first 18 seconds of meeting a doctor. 

“This job, being a physician, is so big, it’s scary,” Nichols said. “Sometimes it’s overwhelming. So many people need you. So you’re dedicating your hearts to serving and caring for humanity.” 

Ohio University Interim President David Descutner, Ph.D., told graduates that while the job before them is great, they are up to the challenge. “As Heritage College graduates, you are well-prepared to practice medicine with integrity, commitment, compassion and respect for each patient,” he said. “I firmly believe your work will make a real difference in the lives of those you serve.”

Speaking as a representative of the class of 2017, Kyle Wenker joked that the class, whose members suffered a plethora of ills and injuries during their four years of medical school, may have been “the most accident-prone and medically vulnerable” in the college’s history. “But we endured it all, and we endured it all together,” he said. And as his classmates go out into the world as practicing physicians, he reminded them to hold tight to this solidarity. “Know that when your colleagues are weary, you have the capacity and the capability to restore them.”

Heritage College Executive Dean Kenneth Johnson, D.O., said this class holds special meaning for him. Dr. Johnson, who has led the medical school since 2012, welcomed members of the class of 2017 during their Convocation ceremony in 2013, so he has known these students from their first days of medical school. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each and every one of you,” he told them.

He said that of the 124 Heritage College students graduating with D.O. degrees this spring, over half are entering primary care specialties or subspecialties, and more than 60 percent are completing their graduate medical education in Ohio. The class also includes 11 members who are pursuing careers as military physicians, who were recognized during Saturday’s ceremony.

This article was provided by the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine is a leader in training dedicated primary care physicians who are prepared to address the most pervasive medical needs in the state and the nation. Approximately 50 percent of Heritage College alumni practice in primary care and nearly 60 percent practice in Ohio. For more information, please visit our website at www.ohio.edu/medicine. CARE LEADS HERE.