A Word from the President: To Be a Physician

Dr. Don Milliken provided the following words of wisdom at the 16th Annual Island Medical Program Student Welcome Dinner:

Thank you for your kind introduction, and welcome everyone to the Island Medical Program’s 16th Annual Student Welcome Dinner on behalf of both the Medical Staff Association of the South Island and the Victoria Medical Society.

On behalf of our organizations, let me start by thanking the co-sponsors of this event, as well as introducing some of our distinguished guests. As I do so, would you please stand and identify yourselves. However, I would also ask guests if they would please hold your applause until the end.

  • Kathy MacNeil, President and Chief Executive Officer, Island Health (here with her husband Pat MacNeil)
  • Dermot Kelleher, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, UBC, and his wife Dr. Jean Holohan;
  • Roger Wong, the Executive Dean for Education in the Faculty of Medicine, UBC
  • Bruce Wright, Regional Associate Dean of the Island Medical Program
  • Welcome May Whitson from MD Financial; from the Doctors of BC, we have Chanelle Sawyer and Alanna Black with us tonight. Thanks to both groups for their ongoing commitment in sponsoring the Island Medical Program and the 2nd year Island Medical students.
  • An especial thanks to Courtney Cousineau from Faculty of Medicine, UBC Alumni engagement office for hosting the UBC Alumni and of course our own Lillian Fitterer from the Victoria Medical Society for organizing this outstanding event.

Please welcome all the parents, friends and family who are attending the dinner tonight. It is such an honour to have them present and share in the beginning of their loved ones’ Medical Journey in Victoria. We hope you enjoy the evening!

Last, and most importantly, welcome to the students of the Island Medical Program Class of 2023 to Vancouver Island. Both the Medical Staff Association and the Victoria Medical Society are committed in helping you feel welcome in our community and hope for your continued success in the next four years.

It is an exciting time for you, and one, I would remind you, that has been shared by every physician in this room. From Dean Kelleher down, we have all sat in your chair. Without being oversentimental, you are starting on a career that I believe can be the most gratifying in the world – the care of our fellow humans.

This point was driven home to be by a student in a class ahead of yours. I was making the point that in more than a half-century of practice, I had never felt “burnt-out”. She was surprised, and asked me why, because that was all she had heard about – the problems of medical practice.

Yes, you will have challenges, both interpersonal and professional. The text book of pharmacology I studied when a student had maybe 5 or 8 pages on psychiatric medications and treatments. Now there are multi-volume texts. As a physician at least half your knowledge will have to be revised every 5 to 7 years.

There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed by the demands of your patients, your colleagues, your organizations, your knowledge, and wonder if you can keep up or cope. You are entering a challenging profession, but also remember that your colleagues, the family of medicine are available to help.

The flip side of challenge is, of course opportunity. When I think of the contrast between the medicine that my professors taught me half a century ago, what we know today about the workings of the human body and brain, and what you will see in your professional lifetimes, I am envious. You will all have the opportunity to help in better ways than I.

So, for me, and I can only speak for me, I balance the feelings of being frustrated and challenged against the feelings I get from the work that I do as a professional,  from being entrusted with the care and well-being of my fellow human beings. In the University of Dublin, then a very traditional European University, the Convocation Procession was in professional rank order. (I don’t know if this was still true in Dean Kelleher’s day, he being younger than I)

First, and most important, came Divinity – the care of your immortal soul for all eternity.

Thirdly came Law, the care of all matters temporal, secular: our worldly affairs.

In between, came Medicine. We stand at the interface between the two. We care for the body and mind, to make it function at its fullest. We relieve suffering; we provide quality of life. Where we cannot do these, we provide comfort, always with respect and dignity, to the individual who sits in front of us.

That is my task. That will be your task. There is none better. If I focus on that task, then I can be frustrated, annoyed and angry on occasions, yes. But seeing the next patient; helping another human being allows me to put the challenges into perspective, and go home each night with a feeling of having done work worth doing.

I wish the same for each and every one of you in your career.

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