KALAMAZOO, MI — A decade-long effort was realized Sunday when nearly 50 students became the first graduates of the new WMU medical school.
The inaugural Class of 2018 of the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine crossed the stage at Miller Auditorium Sunday, May 13, marking a first for the medical school that was merely a vision a decade ago.
“Yesterday we were students. Today we are doctors. Tomorrow we will be interns,” Dr. Jacqueline Dauch, student speaker at Sunday’s event, said to her classmates.
The class “proudly represented WMed” throughout their four years in school, which taught them that “being a good doctor is predicated on being a good human being,” Dauch said to the new doctors and the crowd of proud friends and family gathered on the WMU campus.
The historic graduation is the final step in the school’s first cycle, Founding Dean Dr. Hal Jenson said during the commencement. The inaugural class was “exceptional,” he said. “The bar is high.”
Green hoods came over the heads of each of the 48 former students before they received their diplomas. Cheers and applause from the crowd of proud parents, siblings and children rang out as each graduate was called doctor for the first time.
Crossing the stage was “nerve wracking, but exciting,” graduate Dr. Nina Sadigh, said after the commencement.
Another graduate, Dr. Gus Zervoudakis, said words like “trailblazer” and “pioneer” are used often to describe the class. But it wasn’t until Sunday when he felt the true weight of those words.
“Today you look back over the past four years, all the rough spots you’ve hit, all the mountains you’ve climbed,” Zervoudakis said. “You look back and you see the product and those words really come to life and have meaning on days like today.”
Planning for the new medical school began in 2008, only a year after former WMU President John Dunn arrived in Kalamazoo. The school was built with private donations, including a $100 million gift from Ronda Stryker, the granddaughter of Homer Stryker, and her husband, Bill Johnston, who serves on WMU’s Board of Trustees.
The medical school was granted full accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education in 2018. The seven-year journey toward accreditation began in 2011 when WMed first began preparing for the LCME accreditation. In 2012, WMed was granted preliminary accreditation, which allowed for the acceptance of student applications for the class of 2018.
“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for many years,” Jenson said in an interview after the commencement ceremony.
Former WMU President John Dunn, who first challenged the campus community in 2007 to consider developing a medical school, said in an interview it was a “day of pride not only for the medical school, but also for our community.”
Creation of the school not only provided education, but it also brought a vibrancy to the community, helped the local economy and helped “people understand what a great place this is,” Dunn said.
“What we started out, with just sort of a vision has come to fulfillment, and it will only get better, and better and better,” Dunn added.
Dr. Alan Shapiro, senior medical director of Community Pediatric Programs at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York, gave the commencement address Sunday. He was also the keynote speaker at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2018 in September 2014.
Shapiro, talked about disease epidemics, gun violence, obesity and inequities in healthcare as issues the new doctors might face. He encouraged the graduates to always “practice humanism in medicine,” and said it was not about what they practiced, but rather how they practiced.
Shapiro said the doctors must always approach patients free of bias and judgment and be advocates for affordable and accessible healthcare.
The commencement speaker talked about the HIV epidemic, babies born addicted to heroin, and the Flint Water Crisis before encouraging the graduates to remember the role of doctors to “fight medical inequity and social injustice.”
“What values will you bring to your practice?” Shapiro asked the graduates during his address. “Humanism in medicine requires empathy and respect, even if you don’t like your patient’s personal choices.”
Sunday’s message was significant, Sadigh said after the commencement. It is “important to keep in mind, especially as very fresh doctors, to make sure we embody that as we go on,” she said.