Baylor’s School of Health Professions held its commencement ceremony Dec. 5, the second virtual graduation for the College this year following the June ceremony for the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
The graduates included 39 students from the Physician Assistant Program, 16 from the Doctor of Nursing Practice program and 22 from the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program.
Graduates heard from commencement speaker Dr. Jackie Rowles, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, a Certified Adult Nurse Practitioner and board-certified non-surgical pain management specialist. She is known for her dedication and work toward bringing surgical access to the 5 billion people in the world who currently cannot access essential or emergent surgical care. Rowles is an associate professor at Texas Christian University and serves as the director of the Advanced Pain Management Fellowship. For over two decades, she has been instrumental in starting, and strengthening, pain management specialty training for CRNAs.
Class presidents from each program also spoke at the ceremony, discussing the challenges of completing their education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students also experienced the death of two of their classmates, Carol Sammet in December 2019 and Tabitha Parker, who had been battling cancer and died just days after the graduation ceremony. Read the full speech below from O&P class president Georgi Andrews about the impact of these experiences on her and her classmates.
Good morning, I am Georgi Andrews and am honored to be the president of the Baylor College of Medicine Orthotics and Prosthetics program class of 2020. Thank you for the opportunity to share a bit about our cohort with you today.
Squirrels and birds. This may seem like a weird way to start this speech, but for our cohort, the squirrels and birds outside of Tabitha’s apartment window have been one of the only constants through 2020. Every week or so, Tabitha sends us an update on her cancer treatment, usually followed by a longer update about the birds and squirrels outside of her window. I love these updates. No matter what we are going through, what’s going on in the world, or how much pain we are in, the birds and squirrels will still fight over the bird feeder, reminding us to pay attention to everything around us, searching for the good.
We will forever be shaped by the experiences of the past 2 and a half years. These past 18 months have been the hardest of my life, personally and professionally. We were learning so much so fast in residency, while trying to process our grief and the connection of what we do with the person we love and lost. O&P will always be connected to Carol for us. In some ways that seems overwhelming and impossibly hard to carry into clinic every day. But when I think about what that could look like and what it has slowly started to look like for me, I am filled with hope. My job every day will be connected to her smile, to her energy, to her work ethic and to her strength. That is a gift, to me and to every one of my patients.
In the midst of our grief and right when we were hitting our strides in residency, COVID 19 hit and our cohort was again forced into an attitude adjustment, and in many cases, a location and plan adjustment. Taking a 6 week pause from clinic and in person learning was a challenge right in the middle of residency that no one anticipated.
If we have learned anything this residency, it is that you truly cannot make a life plan. As much as many of us would like to lay out what the next week, month, or years may look like, we simply cannot predict the future. Not one of the 24 of us could have predicted Carol’s death, Tabitha’s cancer returning, or a global pandemic. But I can say without a shadow of a doubt that in December 2020 each of us is every bit as prepared, if not more prepared, for clinical practice than we could have predicted we would be back in June 2018.
During my preparation for job interviews I came across a question somewhere that asked, “why should we hire you over your classmates?” It woke me up from the lull of typing out answers and thinking of scenarios. I teared up as I thought of each of my classmates and typed out this response: “I cannot answer that because the amount of respect and love that I have for my classmates after what we have all gone through together is too high. Hiring someone from the BCM class of 2020 will be a gift to the clinic, no matter which one of us it might be, because we have learned to work through unbelievable challenges. The strength, determination, love and growth of this cohort is unparalleled.”
A big part of that growth is thanks to our unbelievable faculty. We could not have made it through these past two and a half years without you. Thank you for caring for us as students and as humans. Thank you for recognizing when we needed to push through and Learn and when we needed to step back and grieve. I could say thank you for a million things, but I just hope you all know how much you have meant to us. I want to also thank all of our families, significant others, friends, and professionals who have helped our cohort. There is nothing more powerful than a strong support system and we are so thankful for your unwavering support.
To my classmates, we have shared some truly beautiful and some truly unbearable moments together over these past two and a half years.
“I’m doing well in my soul, even though things aren’t looking so stellar on paper.” –
Tabitha said this to us in the group-me one day, and it’s something I hope we can all feel after these 30 months. They may not have looked great on paper at all times, but I hope each one of us has found a way to say, and believe, “I’m doing well in my soul.”
I am so thankful for each one of you. I wish so badly that I could hug you all tight and tell you how proud I am to be your classmate and your colleague. Until we get to see each other in person again, I wish you all the best as you move, start work, and start studying for boards.
Thank you for the opportunity to share today.”
Watch the full graduation ceremony.
Before their ceremony, School of Health Professions awards were announced:
J. David Holcomb Achievement Award
Dr. Geeta Singhal Dah
Professor of Pediatrics
Dean’s Excellence Award
Lab Manager, Orthotics & Prosthetics (recently retired)
Academic Coordinator, Doctor of Nursing Practice
Carl E. Fasser Visionary Leadership Award
Susan Kirk, P.A.
Alumni Association Lehmann Student Award
Elijah Bidwell, Doctor of Nursing Practice
Emily Lipski, Orthotics & Prosthetics Program
Evan Johnson, Physician Assistant Program
Physician Assistant Didactic Instructor Award
Orthotics & Prosthetics Didactic Instructor
Associate Director and Assistant Professor
School of Health Professions
DNP Didactic Instructor
Dr. Rachel Davis
PA Clinical Instructor
Dr. Shane Jenks
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine
O&P Clinical Instructor
DNP Clinical Instructor
Dr. Michael Byars
Instructor of Anesthesiology