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Clay Warnick, MD, Keynote Speech

September 8, 2015

The White Coat Ceremony marks the transition of  physician assistant students form the didactic to clinical phase of their education. On Thursday, September 3, 2015 the PA Class of 2016 celebrated with their family and friends this momentous occasion. This is a remarkable class of physician assistant students, characterized by their dedication to the community, commitment to providing high quality healthcare for their patient and the spirit to support each other to be the best PAs possible. 

Clay Warnick, MD, Keynote Speech

Thank you Dr. Gloria Donnelly, Dean, College of Nursing and Health Professions, Dr.  Susan Smith, Associate  Dean, College of Nursing and Health Professions and Dr. Ellen Feld, Medical Director, Physician Assistant Program.

When I was asked to say a few words for this Physician Assistant’s White Coat Ceremony, my mind started to race in trying to capture what worthy advice I could offer. I immediately state to think back to my roots here at Hahnemann, now Drexel University School of Medicine and how blessed I was to gain acceptance to the Class of 1989 and wear my first white coat as a 2nd year medical student n 1986. We didn’t have a White Coat Ceremony then and no one offered any formal words of encouragement in this type of forum. This is my first White Coat Ceremony and so I am honored that you asked me to speak.

What we did have were phenomenal mentors at many different clinical sites who performed many different roles. I am not just talking physician mentors but ward clerks, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, nurse practitioners, and many nurses over the past 30 years who taught me how to care for patients.

Dr. Ben Carson wrote in his book Gifted Hands he was an intern at Johns Hopkins University Hospital “There isn’t anybody in the world who isn’t worth something. I say if you are nice to them, they’ll be nice to you. The same people you meet on the way up are the same kind of people you meet on the way down. Besides, every person that you meet is one of God’s children.” He goes on to say, ”I truly believe that being a successful neurosurgeon doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else. It mean that I’m fortunate because God gave me the talent to do this job well. I also believe that what talents I have I need to be willing to share with others.

Dr. Arnold Gold, Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at Columbia University, envisioned the White Coat Ceremony as welcoming those embarking on their medical careers to the community of practitioners by giving them a powerful symbol of compassion and honor. It also gives them a standard against which they must measure their every act of care to the patients who trust them.

We students then and now are lucky to have been taught by my many wonderful mentors here at Hahnemann, Medical College of Pennsylvania and at Drexel University. Dr. Wilbur Oaks who died this past June was the Chairmen of the Department of Medicine in 1971 and started this PA program and set forth a path to what it is today. He had many passions but one that truly was top on his list was teaching students and residents. He among others, taught me what it meant to be a compassionate professional in healthcare and how it was our privilege to care for the individual patient. Their Medicine A Servcie as we called it back in the 80s and 90s was “The Service” to learn medicine. Now Oaksy wouldn’t spout the 30 different cause of pancreatitis as his esteemed partners Dr.s Howard Miller, Ken Cohen and Joe Boselli, but Dr. Oaks would lead by example.

One night as a medical resident in the early 90s, I had to give Dr. Oaks an update on one of his patients on the 19th floor at Hahnemann around 11 pm on a Saturday night. He gave me some suggestions on how to manage the patient’s hypertension over the phone. An hour later I went back to check on the patient and in comes Dr. Oaks not in a White Coat, but a tuxedo! I said Dr. Oaks you didn’t have to come in. As some of you know he had a nickname for everyone and called me “Claybaby.” He said ClayBaby I hate these Black Tie functions I’d rather be here making sure she, the patient, was ok and tucked in. There were no written notes nor instructions on Powerpoint  lectures given by Dr. Oaks on how to care for patients…he demonstrated it and lived it.

I’ve had many teachers and clinicians during my 11 years at Hahnemann. They had a huge impact on my becoming the physician I am today. When I say clinicians, I mean just that…those professionals who clinically care for the patient at all different levels. This includes all of those professionals I have previously mentioned. I believe we are a care team all with the ultimate same goal. I have been blessed surrounded by wonderful people here and my 19 years of Chester County Hospital in West Chester.

So in closing, I leave you with there messages as you start your next exciting chapter of training. Why three, when there could be 5 or 10, because the human mind has difficulty remembering more than 3 items at a time especially as we age.

Number 1, have fun! Training is an exiting time. The work and the studying may be onerous, but you will look back and realize it was one of the most rewarding times of your life with the people that you will meet and the relationships that will develop. Work and learn with a smile.

Number 2. Be imitators. If you like how a certain professional teaches or administers care, your instincts are generally good and be like them. Similarly, if certain behaviors make you feel uneasy where there is contrary to your instincts, file those, evaluate those, and it is be to avoid those traits. Do not be afraid to ask questions in medical training. If you don’t understand something, I guarantee you and five others around you are confused as well.

Number 3, Be compassionate and Give Back! It is what Dr. Oaks and Dr. Carson has taught us. But not only to the patients, but also to each other and those that you work with. Everyone in the healthcare arena is generally drawn for the same reason, we enjoy, we get a kick, and we get a boost I caring for folks. Some may celebrate how their institution shines with various report cares on various website or meeting the new federal guidelines and regulations, but the most important grade one can achieve is when the patient and family say thank you for the care they received.

Good Luck, Have Fun, and Thank You.

Clay Warnick, MD