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Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine Celebrates 2021 Commencement

Mr. Michael Powell, chair of the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees and president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, delivered the 2021 commencement address.

June 2, 2021

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff


Ninety-eight students took part in commencement events on Friday, May 21, at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine ― Arizona Campus and Sunday, May 23, at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine ― Rochester Campus. This was the first multistate commencement for Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.

In an unprecedented year, this group of students persevered to overcome what no other modern medical students have ever had to endure: a rapid change to online classes, a halt in patient care and rotations, and a firsthand account to how one of the largest medical institutions in the U.S. responds to a public health crisis.

This year, the medical school hosted in-person events, a departure from last year's virtual event during the early days of the pandemic. The in-person gatherings added an exclamation point to the celebrations.

Fredric Meyer, M.D., Waugh Executive Dean for Education, Mayo Clinic, reminded graduates: "The cornerstone of Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science is our commitment to our students. When the Mayo brothers and families donated their estate to create the Mayo Foundation for Education and Research, they stated in their bequeath 'in service to humanity.' Students, you are about to embark on a noble mission."

Mr. Michael Powell, chair of the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees and president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, was this year's commencement speaker at both events and received an honorary degree at the ceremony in Arizona. Read the speech transcript.

A first in Arizona

In her address to the graduating class in Arizona, Michele Halyard, M.D., the Suzanne Hanson Poole Vice Dean of Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine and dean of the Arizona campus, spoke of the lasting impression the students will have on the medical school.

"Being the inaugural class of Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine (in Arizona) has been an adventure that only your class will be able to brag about," Dr. Halyard said. "You, the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine class of 2021, have lived up to the inaugural class spirit of the first class in Rochester. You have made us a better school. You have pointed out our shortcomings while praising when we got things right. This is the spirit, the legacy, your class will leave behind as you enter the world of residency."

Students in Arizona were transported back through their medical school journeys with a video that highlighted their four years on campus.

Holly Thomson, who was selected to be the student commencement speaker, shared what it meant to be among the inaugural class graduating from Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Arizona.

Video recap: Arizona commencement

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Video recap: Arizona commencement

Continuing tradition in Rochester

In Rochester, rain did little to dampen spirits as students celebrated their graduation from Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine.

Mr. Powell spoke about three critical virtues that form the bedrock of wisdom and distinguish great doctors from good ones.

"The first is selflessness," he said. "It is an essential ingredient in team-based practice." The Mayo brothers recognized early that teamwork is collective wisdom, and the integrated practice is perhaps Mayo's greatest innovation and holds little room for the ego-centered team member, he said.

"The second virtue, and perhaps the most critical, is humility," Mr. Powell said. "Humility and doubt are the cornerstones of curiosity. Mayo's exceptional commitment to research and education is born of its humility and its quest for discovery for continuous improvement. The thing to remember is humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less."

The third virtue is compassion, he said. "It goes beyond seeing someone else's pain," Mr. Powell said. "It commands that you go toward the suffering to make it better. True compassion is action."

In closing his address, which was met with a standing ovation, Mr. Powell presented a call to action.

"You are now part of a community, a society, a nation, and a world," he said. "That world is suffering, and you have a role to play in its healing."

In his remarks to the graduating classes, Dr. Meyer had a message of hope and of gratitude for the trust the students placed in Mayo Clinic.

"It's a privilege to be here with our extraordinary students and those who have supported and guided them to where they are today," Dr. Meyer said. "As aspiring students, you placed your trust in us. Trust that we would provide you with an extraordinary education unmatched in depth and breadth. Trust that your years spent at Mayo Clinic would be fruitful and inspiring. And here you are today, with what I hope is the knowledge to understand the art of medicine, the science of health care, and the desire for life-long learning."

Samuel Rouleau, student commencement speaker in Rochester, said the diversity of thought at Mayo Clinic and the connections with others made his experience at Mayo Clinic memorable.

Video recap: Rochester commencement

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Video recap: Rochester commencement

Students reflect on experiences and lessons learned

"The biggest difference has been interacting with patients while both of us are wearing masks. Communication is so reliant on tone, emotion, and facial expression. We have all had to learn how to adjust and connect with one another with the barrier of not being able to see the bottom two-thirds of others' faces. Sometimes, I'll say to a patient, 'Maybe you can't tell, but I'm giving you a big smile under my mask right now.' The connection still happens, but we've had to rely on other cues." — Samuel Rouleau, M.D.

"The human interaction required to be an effective doctor is so essential, and I was worried about missing that integral part of my education. I am very grateful that I was at Mayo during the pandemic; not only did the administration help us remain on track by ensuring that we would graduate with the clinical skills and knowledge necessary, they also provided us with amazing resources to help us with the unprecedented changes in applying to residency during a worldwide pandemic." — Kent Richter, M.D.

"From a young age, I always wanted to be a doctor. The decision to pursue medicine though was solidified after I shadowed Naveen Pereira, M.D. I met Dr. Pereira through our shared pharmacogenomics interests. I knew him as a scientist, but not as a medical provider. He welcomed me to join the hospital team that was taking care of critically ill heart failure patients at Saint Marys. I listened in on transplant rounds and was in awe of their interdisciplinary approach. I got a glimpse of the Mayo Clinic values that permeate every aspect of patient care. I witnessed the clinical and scientific achievement of Mayo Rochester's first total artificial heart procedure. After that, I just knew I wanted to be the type of physician-scientist embodied by Dr. Pereira." — Jackie Zayas, M.D., Ph.D.

2021 commencement: Student perspectives

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2021 commencement: Student perspectives

"Although my parents are physicians, I decided to pursue medicine on the later side, near the end of college. I had been studying biochemistry and molecular biology, and while I loved the pure scientific pursuit of truth in the lab, I realized that what drives me is human connection. To me, medicine is science in service of others. This is the same value that helped me decide on the patient-centered specialty of internal medicine." — Holly Thomson, M.D.

"I will be forever grateful I was able to start my medical career training at the best hospital in the world. I realized the day I interviewed at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine that this institution is unmatched with respect to the number of opportunities and resources provided to learners. A great example of this is our individualized selective courses throughout first and second year. As a new medical student, I was able to complete 16 weeks of in-person experiences in numerous specialties prior to starting core clerkships. I spent time rotating with ENT, orthopedic surgery, urology, general surgery, pathology, family medicine, and radiology, among others. I have been extraordinarily impressed with the faculty at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. As a student, you are only one email away from observing and participating in cutting-edge medicine." — Steven Rooker, M.D., William and Charles Mayo Award winner

"The most unique factor was the extensive and early opportunities we had to interact with physicians and patients. The selective program allowed me to explore and decide on my specialty well before my third year began, as I already had a window into what that field was like. Our advanced doctoring experiences also afforded opportunities to develop the skills we needed to a confident level going into our clerkships. I would also attribute a lot of my preparation to my wonderful career mentor that has allowed me a lot of specialty-specific experience going into residency." — Annica Eells, M.D.

Looking ahead

These graduates are headed across the country to residency, where they will do their part to ease the physician shortage. An AAMC study projects a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033. These graduates will bring their Mayo training and values with them as the first class of physicians this generation to graduate under the direct effects of a global pandemic. It has forced them to learn, practice, and innovate in new ways.

This story originally appeared in Mayo Clinic News Network as Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine graduates ease physician shortage in world affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine student stands with other soon-to-be-graduates at the commencement ceremony