In seeking the right words to inspire the medical school’s newest students, Dr. Anna Hoekstra turned to a trusted and beloved source, a doctor of a different sort.
“In the words of Dr. Seuss, congratulations, today is your day,” she said to the 84 students in WMed’s Class of 2022 during the White Coat Ceremony on Saturday, September 8, at Miller Auditorium. “You’re off to great places, you’re off and away. And will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed.
“Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
For Dr. Hoekstra, the words from Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You'll Go!” perfectly encapsulated what awaits the students in their next four years at WMed. Their acceptance to WMed as the medical school’s latest group of aspiring physicians, she said, is “an invitation for you to work as hard as you can to earn those two little letters behind your name – MD.”
As a physician, Hoekstra told the students she strives every day to move mountains through her work and has learned that doing so is accomplished only through hard work, balance, defining success appropriately, respect, reliance on others and the ability to think big and think small.
“In retrospect, I know that hard work can make up for many perceived barriers to success, whether that’s your IQ, a tough personal situation or the institutions listed on your resume,” said Dr. Hoekstra, who has been division director of Gynecologic Oncology at the West Michigan Cancer Center since 2011 and is chief of the medical school’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology.
“Those who move mountains work hard to do so.”
During the ceremony, each of the 84 students was presented with their white coat as their family and friends cheered and applauded inside WMU’s Miller Auditorium.
Dr. Hal B. Jenson, the medical school’s founding dean, told the students that wearing their white coat “is not only an expectation, but it’s also a privilege and an honor.” He said the cloaking of each student by their learning community scholar advisor during the event should serve as a reminder to them of the confidence that each faculty member at the medical school has “that you will become competent and compassionate physicians.”
“More importantly, the honor of wearing a white coat represents the trust patients will place in you because of your competence and compassion,” Dr. Jenson said. “Throughout your career, every day, each of your small and simple actions must affirm that this confidence is well-deserved and that the trust is well-placed.”
A doctor’s white coat has long been the widely recognized symbol of the medical profession. However, it wasn’t until 1993 that the White Coat Ceremony was founded by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which concluded that the beginning of a student’s journey into medicine is the best time to influence the standards of professionalism, humanistic values and behavior.
The white coat for each student at the White Coat Ceremony on September 9 was made possible by contributions from white coat sponsors. Each student received a handwritten note from their sponsor that was placed in the pocket of their white coat for them to read.
Arlene Ho, president of WMed’s Class of 2021, called the Class of 2022 “an accomplished, intelligent and kind group of individuals who no doubt will become amazing physicians.”
She reminded the students that the age-old adage, “there is no I in team” holds true in the field of medicine.
“Medicine is very much a collaborative effort to bring forth the best possible care for the patient,” she said. “We exist because there are people who need us. Because of that, I want you to keep this in your minds – medicine is not about your ego, it’s not about being more right than someone else or trying to show that you know all of the answers.
“What I have seen and learned in the year that I’ve been here is that the people next to you, in front of you and behind you, your peers, classmates and family, for the next four years, will be your rocks,” Ho added. “Experiencing the pains and joys of obtaining a medical education is much better with good people around you and I think that’s a big reason why all of us chose WMed.”
In her remarks, Dr. Hoekstra told the students to seek a life balance as they navigate medical school and, later, their careers as medical professionals. Doing so, she said, will allow them “to be fully present with patients in the moments you have with them.”
She also spoke to the students about how the measuring of success has changed for her throughout her career. In her time as a physician, she said she has learned that the treatability of some patients and some diseases is out of her control.
“It’s not a failure of your character if you don’t cure every patient of what ails them,” Dr. Hoekstra said. “Don’t measure success in ways that lead to frustration, guilt and feelings of failure. Sometimes you can’t move the mountain and that’s OK.”
Dr. Hoekstra also implored to the students the importance of respecting each and every patient they encounter and treat. She told them each encounter with a patient “is an opportunity to smile and nourish a respectful relationship.” She also reminded the students of the trappings of self reliance and told them not to be afraid to ask for help when they need it.
“None of us can do this alone and none of us are alone,” she said. “There may be a tendency toward self-reliance at points in your career due to competiveness, arrogance or spite. Please resist that as medical education and this entire career path are too hard to do on your own. Let mentors help you and, in return, help the people who come behind you.
“Nobody can move mountains alone.”
Dr. Hoekstra said that as future physicians, the medical school’s newest students will be presented with opportunities in the future to move mountains – big and small – through their work.
“Both are meaningful,” she said. “Whether you think big or think small, you will make a difference in people’s lives.”
As she concluded her remarks at the White Coat Ceremony, Dr. Hoekstra turned her attention back to Dr. Seuss.
“Today is your day,” she said. “Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.”