Menu

Graduating medical students are encouraged to improve health care access and address social determinants of health

Claire Pomeroy, M.D., is an advocate for patients and public health. At the VCU School of Medicine Hooding Ceremony on May 11, she encouraged the audience of graduating medical students to apply their education toward serving humanity. "Use your knowledge to benefit others," Pomeroy said. "Put patients’ needs above your own and embrace the value of altruism." (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)
Claire Pomeroy, M.D., is an advocate for patients and public health. At the VCU School of Medicine Hooding Ceremony on May 11, she encouraged the audience of graduating medical students to apply their education toward serving humanity. "Use your knowledge to benefit others," Pomeroy said. "Put patients’ needs above your own and embrace the value of altruism." (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)

At the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine Hooding Ceremony, keynote speaker Claire Pomeroy, M.D., encouraged the graduating medical students to lead the change in redesigning how health care is delivered nationally. Pomeroy, president of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, challenged students to help create a health care system that provides accessible, affordable and equitable care for all people.

“Embrace your role as a societal leader ­— one who will work to correct the parts of the health care system that fail to serve the principles of social responsibility and social justice,” Pomeroy said.

The Lasker Foundation, which since 1945 has recognized major medical advancements with awards that promote research excellence, has awarded 86 research prizes to recipients who went on to win a Nobel Prize.

The VCU Hooding Ceremony, held May 11 at the Stuart C. Siegel Center, is a recognition ceremony for doctoral students. Faculty members place the doctoral hoods over the heads of the students, signifying their success in completing the graduate program. It was one of many events that medical school students participated in during graduation weekend.

“The students who are now becoming doctors have been trained in state-of-the-art medicine,” said medical school Dean Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “The graduates will now move across America to make scientific discoveries and advance clinical care for millions of Americans in the communities where they serve for their medical residencies.”

Of the 2018 graduating class, 17 percent will stay at VCU to complete their medical residency. Twenty-five percent of the graduates will remain in Virginia for residency training.

In her speech, Pomeroy noted that 2018 is the 180th anniversary of the VCU School of Medicine and the 100th anniversary of the first women enrolled at the school. During World War I, the Medical College of Virginia began admitting women, intended as a temporary measure while men were called into battle.

“You are graduating at an exciting time for VCU, and yet, you are graduating in an unprecedented time of challenge for our nation and for our profession,” Pomeroy said. “You will practice medicine in an era of tremendous change as we rise to address the urgent need to reform our health care system and achieve the mission of creating a healthier world.”

Cristina Page, M.D., followed in her grandmother's footsteps to become a physician. (Courtesy photo)
Cristina Page, M.D., followed in her grandmother's footsteps to become a physician. (Courtesy photo)

Graduate Cristina Page waited in the audience ready to embrace Pomeroy’s challenge. The third-generation female physician was joined at the Siegel Center by her mother, father and grandmother, who are all doctors.

“My grandmother has inspired a family tradition of medicine,” Page said of Florencia Perez, M.D., who was one of few women enrolled at the University of Havana’s medical school in the 1950s.

Cristina, with her grandmother, Florencia Perez, M.D., and mother, Lourdes Page, M.D.
Cristina, with her grandmother, Florencia Perez, M.D., and mother, Lourdes Page, M.D.

“My grandmother told me stories about her medical training throughout my life and she has always stayed inspired about medicine,” Page said, adding that her mother and grandmother have served as role models for what it means to be a woman in medicine. “I feel fortunate to have the two of them in the audience today, especially at this milestone for VCU and their admission of women into the field.”

This academic year marked the first that more women than men were enrolled in medical schools nationwide, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. For the past 10 years at VCU, approximately half of the medical school enrollees have been female.

“We have a highly inclusive admissions process that promotes an equitable class profile,” said Susan DiGiovanni, M.D., senior associate dean of medical education and student affairs at VCU.

Page chose VCU because of the school’s engagement with the community and its commitment to underserved patients. In her first year as a medical student, she joined the school’s Mary Baughman Society, one of VCU’s four student medical societies. The Baughman Society was named for one of the first women to enter the school in 1918. Baughman stayed in Richmond throughout her medical career, participating in a variety of community and civic activities and earning a reputation as an advocate for women’s rights.

Page will move to Charlotte, North Carolina, with her fiancé and classmate Tanner Hurley to begin medical residency training in internal medicine at Carolinas Medical Center.

“I’m most looking forward to having my own patients who I can take care of and build real relationships with,” Page said, adding that as a physician she planned to accept Pomeroy’s challenge to serve as a champion for equitable access to health care for all.

“I hope we can work out a better system for affordable access to health care,” Page said. “It is a complicated issue, but I am hopeful that over the course of my career we can see major improvements.”

In Pomeroy’s speech Friday, she outlined the obstacles that lay ahead for the graduating medical students, but reassured them that their four years at VCU had positioned them for success.

“Patients will bring the harsh realities of life to the health care system, and their health issues will frequently represent symptoms of the disappointing inequalities in society,” Pomeroy said. “This means that to care for them, we must be community leaders who address social issues. Health is determined only in small part by the care delivered in hospitals and clinics. A much larger part is due to social determinants – factors such as income, education, safe housing, job opportunities and access to healthy foods.  Addressing these fundamental drivers of health status is a big task, but your time at VCU has prepared you for it.”

Graduating medical student Kawthar Yusuf, M.D., receives her doctoral hood, signifying her success in completing the medical school graduate program. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)
Graduating medical student Kawthar Yusuf, M.D., receives her doctoral hood, signifying her success in completing the medical school graduate program. (Photo by Kevin Morley, University Relations)