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UMass Medical School confers 135 Doctor of Medicine degrees in virtual commencement proceedings

New physicians graduate early to join health care workforce challenged by COVID-19

Members of the SOM 2020 Oath Writing Committee,
wearing their white coats, lead their classmates in reciting
the oath at their virtual commencement.

UMass Medical School conferred 135 Doctor of Medicine degrees to the School of Medicine Class of 2020 during a virtual ceremony on Tuesday, March 31, that took place two months early, enabling the new doctors to join the Massachusetts health care workforce immediately to help take on the unprecedented COVID-19 challenge.

The graduation ceremony was livestreamed via Facebook Live and Zoom. Chancellor Michael F. Collins conferred the degrees as Vice Provost of Student Affairs Sonia Chimienti announced each graduate.

“Know how proud we are that you are the young physicians of this moment,” said Chancellor Collins. “Soon, you will raise your hands and take the oath that your class has written. You will pledge to put others above yourselves. You will commit to those most in need, at a time when they need you most. You will vow to step forward when stepping aside is not an option.”

The bold initiative to accelerate the graduation of fourth-year School of Medicine students was joined by the other three medical schools in Massachusetts—Tufts, Boston University and Harvard—and announced Thursday, March 26, by Gov. Charlie Baker and Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.

Just days earlier, on Friday, March 20, the UMass Medical School community celebrated Match Day, also virtually, when the class learned where they were headed for residencies at leading hospitals in Massachusetts and across the country. While in a typical year graduating students’ tenure as resident physicians would begin July 1, the state’s political and public health leaders, medical schools, and licensing and regulatory bodies came together to provide medical students with the opportunity to put their ability and enthusiasm to work where they are most needed now.

The Board of Registration of Medicine has streamlined the process to grant limited medical licenses, enabling graduates to accept clinical assignments at primary care practices, community health centers and hospitals in Massachusetts and elsewhere. While completely voluntary, it is anticipated that many will sign on, as evidenced by numerous efforts students have already undertaken to provide much-needed support to front line clinical staff.

“Never before have we needed you more to join our ranks as healers and leaders of health care teams,” said School of Medicine Dean Terence R. Flotte in his remarks. “Yours is a vocation, a calling, to serve your fellow human beings in their moments of greatest need.”

Class Speaker Andrew El-Hayek invoked the words of the wise wizard Gandalf in J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

“We are living in a particularly difficult time in health care and in the world,” said El-Hayek. “We can acknowledge the gravity and true tragedy this pandemic represents while also having room to mourn the losses.”

Governor Baker conveyed his thanks and appreciation to the Class of 2020 via video message. Also joining the proceedings remotely were Chair of the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees Robert Manning and University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan.

The ceremony closed with the graduates taking an oath as new physicians. Beginning a new commencement tradition for the School of Medicine, the Class of 2020 is the first class to write its own oath for the commencement ceremony. Led by Oath Writing Committee members Lauren Colwell, Philip Picard-Fraser, Samantha Martin, Joseph Shortsleeve, Patrick Lowe, Simon Ostrowksi and Jacqueline Chipkin, each graduate from their remote locations read in unison, pledging to be resilient, compassionate, humble and brave.

Watch video of the virtual ceremony; read Chancellor Collins’ and Dean Flotte’s full speeches; and see lists of the 2020 School of Medicine graduates and award winners.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
UMMS, three Boston medical schools to accelerate graduation of class of 2020
UMass Medical School receives letter of appreciation from UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman
Match Day residency placements signal next steps for SOM Class of ’20