First full pandemic class of medical students graduate from Baylor College of Medicine

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic gave Baylor College of Medicine’s class of 2023 three things, according to Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean.

First, the unprecedented world event gave students the ability to think clearly about why they chose to study medicine. Second, it gave them the focus necessary to adapt to a fast-changing field. And finally, it revealed a sense of purpose that few graduating medical school classes have felt before.

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“The challenges that you have faced included a disruption of research, limited clinical rotations, online learning and isolation,” Klotman said in his speech at Monday’s commencement ceremony. “As a result, you now understand the importance of resilience, flexibility and adaptability that is required in the profession you have chosen.”

On May 22, Baylor held its spring commencement ceremony at the Hobby Center of the Performing Arts in downtown Houston. More than 170 medical students walked the stage, as well as 88 from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and nine from the School of Health Professions’ Genetic Counseling Program.

For the class of 2023, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic became its precedent. And for Dr. Nasim Khalfe, medical school class president, her training affirmed the decision to help her patients, as well as her fellow doctors.

“We’ve trained in unprecedented times, and in many ways, only we can relate to each other in what we’ve endured,” Khalfe said during her final speech as president. “After these four years, we’re stronger, kinder, more compassionate people.”

Before degrees were conferred and given to graduates, honorary Doctor of Humanities in Medicine degrees were given to David and Maire Baldwin, founders of the Pursuit for those with DisABILITIES in The Center for Pursuit, and Jed Manocherian, founder and chairman of Advancing Cures Today at the National Institutes of Health (ACT for NIH).

Manocherian called this time a “golden age of science,” and said Baylor is at the forefront of several advancements. Though not a medical doctor, Manocherian has a “visceral hatred of disease” and added that scientific research will be the key to increasing health outcomes around the world.

“There are no incurable diseases, only diseases that haven’t been cured yet,” Manocherian said. “You have the education and compassionate resolve to better healthcare… there are too many patients to be patient.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, associate professor of neurosurgery at Emory University and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital, received this year’s honorary Doctor of Letters in Medicine degree and delivered the commencement address. Gupta is the multiple Emmy-award winning chief medical correspondent for CNN. During his address, Gupta encouraged graduates to embrace their humanity.

“Please make a pledge to yourself, and to each other, to never forget the path you’ve chosen is one that will always require, not artificial intelligence, but authentic intelligence – the uniquely human touch,” Gupta said.

Hours before commencement, three new M.D.s were celebrated at the annual Military Commissioning Ceremony inside the DeBakey Library and Museum.

Christopher Wong received the 2023 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee for numerous public health efforts as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow, volunteer work with the City of Houston and in his varied roles at Baylor, including in global health.

Ryan Reusch, the son of two Air Force-trained nurses, was commissioned into the Air Force and will complete his residency in internal medicine at U.C. David Health and David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base in California. The collaboration will give him the opportunity to treat soldiers and civilians.

Reusch knew he wanted to join the military after hearing his parents’ stories of exploration and mission-based healthcare. But he wanted to be a medical doctor, too. He applied and was accepted to the Health Professions Scholarship Program, which helped him pay for medical school.

“I was able to pursue what I was passionate about and serve my country in the military by taking care of soldiers who fight for our freedom every day,” Reusch said. “The exposure you get at Baylor in the Texas Medical Center is unmatched by most places in the country… it will be phenomenal practice for starting residency.”

Ryan Keller, also was commissioned into the Air Force and will be a doing a three-year emergency medicine residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He said it will combine two of his passions: medicine and military service.

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“When I was trying to decide what my service would look like, I found out that there’s a large medical field in the military with unique experiences that I couldn’t pass up,” Keller said. “Baylor helped me well because of the varied settings that students get to practice in. It’s really going to help me adapt very quickly and effectively to different environments that I’m going to be encountering.”

By Julie Garcia