Watch the AMA's daily COVID-19 update, with insights from AMA leaders and experts about the pandemic.
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AMA Chief Experience Officer Todd Unger speaks with AMA President Patrice Harris, M.D., M.A., and newly graduated physicians from the medical school class of 2020 on the future and challenges ahead for the nation’s newest physicians.
Learn more at the AMA's COVID-19 resource center.
Unger: Hello, this is the American Medical Association's COVID-19 update. Today, we'll be discussing the impact of COVID-19 on medical school graduates and highlights from the AMA tribute to the medical school class of 2020.
I'm joined today by Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA's president, and a psychiatrist and former county health director in Atlanta, Dr. Taylor Lucas, a 2020 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville and chair of the AMA Medical Student Section Governing Council in Greenville, South Carolina, and Dr. Baillie Bronner, a 2020 Graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and vice chair of the AMA Medical Student Section Governing Council in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I'm Todd Unger, AMA's chief experience officer in Chicago.
First, let me welcome Dr. Lucas and Dr. Bronner, two of our newest physicians. This pandemic has impacted everybody's lives with missed events and milestone celebrations and so much more. Graduating medical students know this better than anyone, and that's why on May 20, the AMA hosted a national celebration to honor the 30,000 medical school students who are graduating this spring. The virtual event included notable celebrities as well as some of the nation's leading physicians who offered their advice and encouragement. Dr. Harris, your speech not only kicked off the event, but it also offered guidance to our next generation of physicians. What were some of the key messages you hope students took away from your address?
Dr. Harris: Well, first let me also congratulate Doctors Lucas and Bronner. welcome to the physician family. It's such an honor for me to be on with you today and I'm sure you have nothing but success ahead of you. But last night I noted that we are absolutely all facing a challenging time and we should embrace that. We should embrace that and deal with that. But that should, by no means, lessen the importance of this historic moment for our 2020 graduates. And I wanted them to not miss this moment and to celebrate the joy and the accomplishment of what they just achieved.
Unger: Dr. Lucas, Dr. Bronner, again, congratulations. First, can you tell us about your own graduation experience and how you felt about it?
Dr. Lucas: Sure. So at our school, we had the full virtual ceremony. We had the traditional speeches from a few deans and of course our class president, and then they flashed on the screen everybody's face and told a little bit about what their specialty was and where they were going for residency. I think the coolest part was me and my wife drove to pick up our diplomas and the administration had a socially responsible welcoming party, and everybody was cheering and celebrating, and they even had two cardboard cutouts of the deans. So you could take a picture in full regalia if that's what you wanted to do. So they did the best with the situation that they had. And I hadn't really been thinking about graduation in particular, but seeing everybody's faces really made me miss the opportunity to see the class one more time. So I'm hoping we have one big reunion party sometime in the future.
Dr. Bronner: Yeah. Similarly, our school had a virtual video that they did as well. That was kind of more of a virtual keepsake video rather than a live event, but it was still really great to get to hear from multiple classmates as well as some of our deans and just really impactful faculty that we had during our time at the university. Additionally, they also had a little drive-up thing where we could come get a grad bag where they put stuff in it, which was really nice. I dropped it immediately and broke a glass bottle. So it all went really well. But I think that, like Taylor said, I think given the circumstances, they really tried to go out of their way to make us feel celebrated and like this was a huge milestone in our careers and that they really honored that for our class of 2020.
Unger: Dr. Lucas, Dr. Bronner, you both participated in and watched the virtual tribute to medical students. Was there a specific piece of advice or part of the message that really resonated with you?
Dr. Lucas: I really appreciated one point Dr. Esther Choo made about the importance of physicians being a data translator. I'm sure that everyone has had family members reaching out to them and seeing confusion on social media about everything that's going on. And it's really driven home for me that it's not enough just for me to know about COVID-19 or any other disease if I'm not able to build a bridge of trust and communication with others. And then the flip side of that is I have to have the humility to know that I'm not always going to be right. And if I'm going to maintain that relationship and trust, I need to learn from it, own it and then just keep continuing trying to build that relationship.
Unger: I think one of our prior guests, Dr. Mike, in his comments said that doctors are very comfortable with the data and the science, but they need to be better storytellers. And I think that's something that came across for me in the tribute. Do you feel like you have the kind of storytelling experience and skills that you need to translate the data?
Dr. Lucas: Yeah. I think that's something I've been working on and hopefully it's something I can continue to strengthen through residency. And I think working in the AMA and seeing the great examples that are set there and the examples of my peers is a big part of that.
Unger: Dr. Bronner, did you have anything that particularly struck you in the tribute?
Dr. Bronner: Yeah, definitely. If it's okay, I wanted to read a quote that I wrote down from Dr. Aletha Maybank's address. During her address, she said, "This new day calls upon all of you to know and to understand what creates health more broadly beyond the halls and walls of the health care system, the hospitals and doctor's offices, and understand how larger political, historical, structural, social and cultural contexts in which we all will live, will impact our patients' health, your health and the health of your loved ones." And I thought that that was just incredibly powerful. I love that she really encouraged us to value and to pursue the creation of a medical field that values health, that values racial and social justice, that affirms human rights. And I know I got to work a little bit peripherally with Dr. Maybank this year, and I really feel like she encouraged us to really dig into that historical context of some of the racism in medicine.
And I really appreciated that she brought that full circle and that's something that the AMA Center for Health Equity has really brought as a new piece to the AMA this year that I've really, really appreciated. And then kind of going along the same thing, Dr. Esther Choo also said something that I thought was really fantastic. She said, "Recognize the time when you must speak. And when it is the time to lift up the voices of others." And again, I thought that that was something that was just kind of a culmination of my experience in the AMA and this whole year. And that is it really is time to amplify and to elevate the voices of our colleagues and our patients who have historically been, and today are still oppressed and underrepresented. So I loved some of the speeches that were given yesterday, and I thought that they were really inspiring.
Unger: Dr. Harris, any thoughts from the speeches from your fellow physicians?
Dr. Harris: Well, I enjoyed them all and learn so much just as our two new doctors talked about. I think it is about embracing all of who we are and can be as physicians. There's not really a narrow role here. There are so many opportunities. I've said this over the course of my career, that a physician really brings many opportunities for leadership in so many different areas. And I think that was in full view last night in the speeches.
Unger: Dr. Harris, we also had a chance to hear from a lot of graduating medical students throughout the program. And when you think about this next generation of physicians, what inspires you the most?
Dr. Harris: Well, the one area I want to point out or the one lesson is we really have to continue to make a commitment to what I call intergenerational learning. No one generation has the market cornered on wisdom or how to do things. And so it's so important that we learn from one another. And certainly I am so inspired by the energy, the compassion and the passion of our new doctors, the medical students, the young physicians, the residents that I have encountered in the last several years. And I also, as we've seen just in these few minutes, am so inspired and certainly brings me hope that this new generation of physicians is willing to embrace all of the roles that is so critical of our physicians to have. As we emerge post-pandemic into a new world, a brave new world, I am inspired, and I am not concerned because as I said, last night, physicians don't run away from problems. We run towards them. And I know these new graduates are willing to lead and continue to run towards problems.
Unger: Yes, indeed. Dr. Lucas, I know you're about to begin your residency at a very extremely challenging time. How are you feeling about starting this at this critical moment?
Dr. Lucas: Well, I think with any big transition, there's a mix of excitement and anxiety just because of the uncertainty. And I've lived in South Carolina my whole life. So moving to Manhattan and starting residency was going to be a big transition even in normal times. But with everything else going on, the uncertainty is dialed up and so is the excitement and the anxiety. This is really like any other transition, but more so. But despite that, I'm excited to finally see patients. I wanted to pursue medicine because I enjoy working and talking with patients, and I'll finally be able to do that. So working with the AMA has fostered and strengthened my passion for public health as well. And I think right now, everyone is recognizing that doctors with an eye for their patient and their population are critically important. So I'm excited to start having that experience behind me.
Unger: Dr. Bronner, I'm sorry.
Dr. Lucas: Sorry, go ahead.
Unger: Go ahead. I'm sorry to interrupt.
Dr. Lucas: I was just going to say like most new interns, I'm worried about the pace and the workload with the high stakes, but I know I'm joining an incredible team that'll help me reach my potential.
Unger: Dr. Bronner, you're about to start as well. What are you most excited about or what are you concerned about?
Dr. Bronner: I think I'm really excited to move into the next phase of my career, where I can really, like Taylor said, just be able to have those relationships with patients that I've always wanted on a longterm basis. I'm going into OB/GYN. It's a very intimate profession, and I'm excited to finally be able to have those long-term relationships with patients and really provide that empathetic and holistic approach to their care. Obviously, I'm also very nervous. I also have never moved from my hometown. I'm from New Mexico. I was born and raised here and I'm moving to Chicago, which is a very, very different pace of life. And so I'm a little bit nervous, but I'm excited to really just be able to embrace a new city and a new group of people to work with and a new patient population. And I think it's going to be a great growth experience. And I don't know, who knows? Maybe I'll love it so much out there that I won't come home, but my heart might always be in New Mexico a little bit.
Unger: Dr. Harris, how do we put this moment in context for both our graduating medical students, as well as those that are still in school? Is there a learning moment here?
Dr. Harris: Well, first of all, I want to tell the new graduates that I can relate to their experiences. I was born and raised in West Virginia and then came to Atlanta for my residency and fellowship training. And certainly I can relate to all of those feelings, the anxiety, the worry, the fear, but also the excitement at such a new learning opportunity. And Todd, that is true. So throughout the course of my life and I think others, we can choose to learn from a moment of yuck as I call it, to learn from this lesson, this challenge, this pandemic. And so there are so many learning opportunities, but I think the broader opportunity and the broader question is how will we contribute to a new health delivery ecosystem?
There are so many conversations raised by this pandemic. You've already heard health equity mentioned, mental health, private practice, independent practice, so many questions. And it will be up to us as leaders to learn from this moment as physician leaders and make sure we are leading the conversation. It should be thoughtful conversation, evidence-based conversation. But I think our moment is to take the lessons that we are all learning, translate them and make sure we are at the forefront in the next health delivery ecosystem that evolves from this current pandemic.
Unger: Well said. Well, that's it for today's COVID-19 update. Dr. Lucas, Dr. Bronner, my deepest congratulations on your graduation and thanks from the AMA for your leadership and service on the medical student section. Dr. Harris, a pleasure to have you here again today. Thank you for your perspective. We'll be off for Memorial Day, but back on Tuesday with another COVID-19 update.