Be Caring, Compassionate, Competent and Courageous – Convocation Keynote Speaker Dr. Denise V. Rodgers

D Rodgers Convocation 2019


Text of RBHS Vice Chancellor Dr. Denise V. Rodgers’ 2019 Convocation keynote speech:

Good Afternoon. What a pleasure and privilege it is to have been asked to be the convocation speaker for the Rutgers School of Health Professions Class of 2019. Of course I must begin by congratulating all of the graduates on the accomplishments that allow you to sit here today. I also want to acknowledge the many friends and family members who have come to celebrate your work and share your joy on this important day. Finally, I want to thank Fae Cushing for her inspiring remarks. She is clearly an SHP graduate who is going to make a significant difference in the lives of the people she will serve.

As vice-chancellor for interprofessional programs, I am particularly honored to recognize key members of the health care team who are frequently under acknowledged, yet without whom quality patient care would be impossible.

The medical sonographer, the radiologic technologist, the medical laboratory scientist, the nuclear medicine technologist. You perform the tests that diagnose diseases, evaluate a patient’s readiness for surgery or other procedures, and help to track the effectiveness of treatments. However, in addition to the sophisticated technologies you have mastered during your training, you can also make a difference in the lives of patients through your actions away from the machines. You can offer reassuring words to the six year old boy getting the ultrasound that will help determine why his stomach hurts.

You can smile at and comfort the 86-year old woman getting her first MRI, and then you can remind her that in fact the bark of that big machine is indeed much worse than its bite, you can put a gentle reassuring hand on the shoulder of the woman who is about to get her six month follow up mammogram after treatment for breast cancer. This is a reminder that by maintaining your instinct for caring you will have an even more fulfilling career well into the future.

The physical therapist, the occupational therapy assistant, the clinical nutritionist, the psychosocial rehab counselor, and the psychiatric rehab counselor, you are the professionals who help people regain their lives, often after their lives have been saved. When a person suffers a traumatic physical or psychiatric illness there is the initial period of acute care that is followed by your life-giving work. You are the ones who teach people to walk again, to feed themselves, to make sure they get the nourishment needed to hasten and maintain recovery. You help people manage their chronic mental illnesses. You are also the professionals who help people adjust to the new phases of their lives that may be marked by a change in both physical and psychological ability. Your compassionate care can inspire the former runner to become a Special Olympian, you share the sense of accomplishment with the stoke patient who is finally able to dress himself alone, and you support and encourage the patient with a chronic mental illness who is finally able to go back to work. Your actions, attitude and words can be transformative for the patients you serve.

To the physician assistant graduates, you will partner with physicians and advance practice nurses to provide direct patient care services to people with a wide range of needs. Some of you will provide primary and preventive care, while others will assist in surgery, and others still will be part of teams that provide highly specialized medical care. You will work in partnership with many of the disciplines represented by your fellow SHP graduates today. Remember, those partnerships are key to the overall well-being of the patients you care for.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those of you who do the backbone work of healthcare. Those of you who are skilled in health information management and healthcare management. You help to maintain quality, provide credentialing services, ensure the availability of electronic health records, and manage health systems. You will excel in your work by always remembering that you too play an important role in helping to prevent illness and heal the sick.

Lastly, today, a significant number of you are graduating with your doctoral degrees. You are the people who will teach the next generation of professionals as you also engage in research to develop new and innovative best practices in your fields. It is imperative that you are ever mindful of the people we seek to serve as you strive to keep your work grounded and focused on our patients and their families.

As you prepare for this next phase of your lives I want to remind you of the four “C”s that I believe are needed to be successful in the health professions.

The first C is Caring – defined by Webster’s Dictionary as, “feeling or showing concern for or kindness to others.” Please remember that it is important for you to care for your colleagues, as well as the patients you serve.

The second C is Compassion – defined as, “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Obviously, the key to compassion is the desire to alleviate pain and suffering once you recognize it. Compassion is easy to talk about and sometimes difficult to achieve. Compassion can be hard to muster in the face of patients who are belligerent, or homeless and smelly, or different from you in their cultural beliefs. It is when you are feeling most alienated from a patient that you need to mindfully bring forth your compassion.

The third C is Competence – defined as, “The quality or state of having sufficient knowledge, judgement, skill or strength”. For all of the care and compassion you might offer your patients, it is only with competence that you ensure better health outcomes. Maintaining competence throughout your career is important wherever you may be working, be it the laboratory, radiology center, at the bedside or in an administrative office.

And the fourth C is Courage – defined as, “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”. Maya Angelo once said that “Courage is probably the most important virtue because without it one cannot practice any other virtue with consistency”.

I believe it takes courage to believe in yourself when things are difficult. I believe it takes courage to maintain hope for the people you serve in the face of illness and death. It takes courage to give bad news, and it takes courage to help those who are transitioning toward the end of their lives. For all of you it has taken courage to get here today. You had the courage to believe you could accomplish your dreams and you did.

The four “C”s I have just described are also important for you personally. Self-care and compassion are critically important for healthcare professionals. The Triple Aim described by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement has now become the Quadruple Aim, with maintaining health professional well-being, now added to the original three that are: improving the health of populations, enhancing the experience of care for individuals, and reducing the per capita cost of health care. Since I am a family doctor, I am compelled to remind you to eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, engage in a mindfulness or spiritual practice, and get plenty of sleep. If you don’t take care of yourselves it becomes very difficult to care for others, be it at work or at home.

In addition to maintaining your professional competence, it is also important to be competent members of our larger society. When possible, get involved in your children’s PTA, volunteer at your house of worship, participate in your neighborhood block association, and at a minimum make sure you vote in local, state and national elections.

Finally, I want to talk about one particular and very important act of personal courage. Those of us in the health professions are privileged to have insight into the lives of the patients and families we serve. I believe that with this privilege comes enormous responsibility. We have a responsibility to talk openly and publically about the adverse consequences of poverty and the adverse consequences of the lack of access to healthcare. We see firsthand people who present very late to care because they lack insurance that would have allowed them to seek care in a timely manner. We witness the enormous obstacles faced by those with chronic mental illness as they struggle to find a therapist who takes Medicaid, let alone a therapist who cares for the un- or under-insured.

As health care professionals we often witness firsthand the negative impacts of food insecurity and homelessness on our patients. In light of these insights I would offer that it becomes our responsibility to speak out for those who are voiceless in this society. It is our responsibility to advocate for adequate food, housing, education, employment and for access to health care for all. This advocacy will require us to challenge the notion that people are hungry and homeless and poorly educated and lacking in health care access because they just don’t try hard enough. This advocacy will require us to sometimes have difficult conversations with our friends, our neighbors and our families. However, these difficult conversations are necessary because we are witnesses to the adverse effects of poverty on human lives.

We cannot afford to turn and look away from those most in need in this country. Depending on where you work, they will often be the patients you care for every day, or you may only see them occasionally in more affluent settings. This advocacy on behalf of those in need will be difficult.

Should you choose to do so, this advocacy will take enormous courage.

So in closing I urge you to be caring, compassionate, competent and courageous in your professional roles, in your personal lives, and as members of larger society. I know you will go forth and make us proud. Again, my congratulations on all of your accomplishments to date.

Thank you.