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Like most of you, I have attended many graduations, and heard more than a few commencement speeches. While recalling the speeches I can remember with the greatest fondness, I began wondering:  What made those speeches more memorable than all the others?

Three factors clearly influenced my view:

  • First, memorable speeches distinctly outline a clear sense of the values and experiences that influenced the speaker’s personal life and societal contributions.
  • Second, notable remarks provide at least one tidbit of advice that remains personally relevant today, and continues to influence one’s own thinking.
  • And third, enduring speeches never run long. I’m sure everyone appreciates that attribute.

So, I will try to honor those three lessons in my remarks this evening.

In many ways, I am an untraditional leader of a not-for-profit health system of the size and national reputation of Lancaster General Health.  I am not a nurse or a doctor, but rather a social worker who was given the opportunity to become a leader young in my professional life.  By working hard and being willing to take professional risks, I have literally been given opportunities I never even dreamed about when I sat in your seat at my college graduation 40 years ago. 

I am also the first female Chief Executive Officer of our 123-year-old organization, and although I don’t place great value on gender distinctions, I do appreciate the opportunity to serve as a role model for young women who have leadership aspirations. 

My social work training, and the values which I was taught by my parents, continue to influence my leadership style, aspirations, and decisions on a daily basis.  It is through these experiences I have learned that personal and professional contentment comes from finding a career that allows one to pursue their true passions and interests while also providing an opportunity for professional growth.

I consider myself extremely blessed that I found my way into a leadership role in healthcare. I am able to share my talents and attributes in a way that hopefully, not only brings value to individuals but also can positively impact our community at large.  For I believe, as healthcare professionals, we have an obligation to assure we are improving health on a community-wide level while caring for individuals in need. 

So, here is my challenge to you: Find that place in healthcare that enables you to passionately pursue your professional calling.

Never simply settle for a job. You may start there, but quickly and continually assess whether your assignment will bring you lasting joy and enable you to blossom while healing or benefitting others.

I am quite sure that many, if not all of you, chose a career in healthcare because you also recognize that personal enrichment is often short-lived.  However, truly impacting the lives of others, leaves you with a sense of contentment and fulfillment that is immeasurable.

Never miss an opportunity to touch the lives of your patients, their families, and those around you. Those opportunities are uniquely abundant in healthcare and, if you allow yourself to personalize the work you do, I can promise you will be enriched.

No one should question or doubt that through your education and training, you have been exposed to vast medical knowledge and amazing technology.  What they will watch for, however, is how you apply what you have observed and learned, and what your personal approach to medicine will be.   Be sure to use your eyes to see, your ears to listen, and your heart to feel.  Your training sharpens your instincts.  Your awareness sharpens your intuition.  Your compassion deepens your impact.

At Lancaster General Health, most people believe our patients’ primary relationship is with their physician. But studies show that’s not entirely true. While under our care – whether at our hospitals, outpatient centers, physician practices or other locations – patients actually interact much more with nurses, technologists, therapists, assistants, and others working at what we call the “sharp end of care.”

As a result, our patients’ most meaningful, personal connections are made by people such as you. What a gift! When patients feel caregivers are engaged with them, they are more engaged in their own care and have better outcomes. Each of you has the opportunity – dare I say the responsibility – to support a culture based not only on simply caring for patients, but also caring about patients.

The healthcare world you are entering is exciting.  “Cutting-edge” and “remarkable” do not seem sufficient to describe marvelous breakthroughs such as gene mapping, immunotherapy, and organ regeneration.  At the same time, we are going back to the future, rediscovering cures and treatments used by civilizations centuries ago.  Science and medicine can be confusing to our patients, especially when new discoveries and fresh studies overturn long-held beliefs.  Your credentials build the basis for trust.  How you communicate with patients and the public can cement that trust.  Your credentials also build the basis for you to be an advocate for those who count on you.  When we educate and train you, we empower you.  Your observations, suggestions, and recommendations for improving practice and patient outcomes are essential.  That is your role and responsibility as a champion for those who depend on you.

Albert Schweitzer, the famous French-German theologian and physician, had some observations highly applicable to this event.  On the philosophical side, he said: “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion, and the will to help others.”  What a fine way to describe the best impulses of the work you have chosen to do.

On the practical side, he said: “Do something for somebody every day for which you do not get paid.”  Now that will not help much with student debt, but it will certainly enrich your spiritual bank.

What we ultimately ask, and hope for fervently, is that you apply your professional skills and judgment with purpose and passion.  In doing so, you will honor the precepts and traditions of medicine, one of the greatest gifts in our human experience.

Before closing, I would like to offer you another tidbit of advice that I hope you will never forget.  Look around you this evening at your family and friends who are here to support you.  These individuals, and others you love who were unable to be here, will remain your base of support throughout your life.  And as we are often reminded in healthcare, every day is a gift.  So use today as a time to thank those who have nurtured and supported you so you can now launch your careers and start this new and exciting phase of life.

Thank you for honoring me with this opportunity to address you and your families this evening. My wish for you, is that you lead a life of fulfillment and joy. My hope for you, is a professional path that provides you, as it has me, incredible opportunities to make a difference at home, in your community, and perhaps even our world.

Best wishes to you all.

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