A finish line, a jumping-off point: Mayo Clinic's graduating physicians, scientists celebrate commencement
More than 100 students received graduate degrees from the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science on Friday afternoon.
ROCHESTER — Family, faculty and friends gathered in Mayo Civic Center on Friday afternoon to watch more than 100 M.D., Ph.D. and master's degree recipients receive their diplomas during the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science's 2023 commencement ceremony.
The Minnesota class of 2023 includes 55 M.D. graduates, and 11 of those M.D. students also earned a Ph.D. Twenty-seven standalone Ph.D. recipients also received their degrees along with 22 students graduating with a master's degree in biomedical sciences.
For Connor Walsh, an M.D. graduate and the student speaker at commencement, the past few months leading up to graduation have been equal parts excitement and anxiety.
"It's so hard to believe that after all of these years of college and pre-med courses and now medical school that we're kind of at this finish line, which is also a jumping-off point to the next big stage of medical training," Walsh said.
Most of his class' medical school experience overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking back, Walsh said he felt his class was well-protected and supported through virtual classes and precautions taken to keep them safe during clinical rotations.
"In a lot of ways, COVID disrupted some of the social relationships that would have been built differently had we been together throughout medical school, but I've been so fortunate to have still made really deep and meaningful friendships with a number of my classmates and other friends here in Rochester, as well as mentors," Walsh said. "The ability to still form connections, even in the face of COVID, has been pretty remarkable."
COVID-19 also brought health inequities to the forefront, something Walsh said he and his classmates are more cognizant of now.
"Personally, it inspired me to want to help address both by way of researching to better understand some of the disparities, particularly for me among LGBTQ communities, but then also figure out ways that we as a medical community can address those," Walsh said.
Walsh's next step is an internal medicine residency at the University of Washington in Seattle, which will bring him closer to his parents.
"I'm very excited about internal medicine," Walsh said. "It's kind of the first next step for training because it keeps so many doors open. I'm really undecided with what my ultimate area of clinical specialty is going to be, but there are so many options and I'm so fascinated by the field of medicine and the ability to form lasting connections and relationships with patients."
In his speech, Walsh reflected on his class's milestones, such as their first day of school at Mayo Clinic and the transition to virtual classes during COVID-19. He called attention to the need to speak out against restrictions impacting medicine across the country, such as abortion restrictions and bans on gender-affirming care .
"As physicians, I believe our responsibility extends beyond hospitals and clinic rooms," Walsh said. "As physicians, our voices have weight in our communities. As citizens, it's our duty to be politically engaged."
Graduates heard from commencement speaker Dr. Dawn Mussallem, a consultant in Mayo Clinic's Division of Hematology Oncology and the founder of the Integrative Medicine and Breast Health Program at Mayo Clinic Florida. As a lifestyle medicine and breast specialist physician, Mussallem shared how important it is to listen to patients and do careful examinations. She reflected on how, in her first year of medical school, a doctor dismissed her symptoms and diagnosed her with asthma. The symptoms she was experiencing were actually due to stage 4 lymphoma in her chest.
Mussallem would go on to experience heart failure for several years until she received a heart transplant in 2021. Along the way, she was resuscitated once, and before that, she experienced the death of her husband.
She implored graduates to practice gratitude, love unconditionally and never let go of the mission of using medicine to improve people's lives.
"Embrace your aliveness," Mussallem said. "Remember to pause and take time to just be."
Dr. Fredric Meyer, dean of the Alix School of Medicine, told graduates he hopes they take Mayo Clinic's principles of care out with them in their careers.
"When you leave here, please remember we're fortunate to be physicians and scientists working to help people," Meyer said.
Earlier this week, 47 medical students at the Alix School of Medicine's Florida and Arizona campuses received their diplomas.