Christopher Cooper, MD, offered the advice of a wise sage to the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine Class of 2018.
Opportunities are unbelievable, setbacks are part of life but essential to learning and one must be willing to change in an ever-changing world, said Cooper, who is executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences.
Cooper, who obtained his medical degree in 1988 from UC, offered the keynote address at Honors Day for the College of Medicine Saturday, May 19, 2018, at Aronoff Center in downtown Cincinnati. Medical degrees were granted to 148 graduates, including three graduates who also received joint PhDs.
"My UC education gave me opportunities, and the faculty looked out for me,” says Cooper. "Since then I’ve have the opportunity to perform interventional cardiac procedures on six continents; I’ve served on the board of governors at the American College of Cardiology, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and now serve others as the dean of our medical school in Toledo. It started here in Cincinnati. Where you sit, the possibilities in front of you can’t be imagined. My advice is to make the most of them and go out and change the world.”
Cooper, a cardiologist, has been dean of the UT College of Medicine and Life Sciences since 2014. He first joined the college’s faculty in 1994 and also served as chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine from 2002 to 2012; he was director of the UT Heart and Vascular Center from 2008 to 2011. A prolific researcher, Cooper had grant funding of more than $28 million during his UT tenure and was the principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health-funded CORAL Trial, an international, multi-center clinical trial comparing medical therapy alone against medical therapy with stenting for renal artery stenosis. The research findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and has been cited over 400 times in the four years since publication.
"Here is my second message: you are going to get knocked down,” he added. "Learn from it and get back up. We all hope that life will be one success followed by the other. That’s not so. You are going to get knocked down. Maybe you didn’t match (for medical residency). Maybe you didn’t match where you wanted to. Learn from those experiences; listen to advice. Get back up. Move forward now.”
Cooper shared his own setbacks.
"I applied to six (medical) colleges and only got accepted to the one in my hometown,” he said. "At 40, I spent a week in the intensive care unit, and for medical students, it was because I have ITP (Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura) and my platelet count was 3,000. I was bleeding from everywhere. As division chief, department chair and as dean, I’ve had my failures, and you will too.”
Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks platelets.
"When tragedy or misfortune or a bad decision strikes, look inside yourself and figure how to do better and better,” said Cooper. "No one likes to fail, but I will assure you that it is our failures that provide the greatest learning opportunities. So get up and get going, learn, you can do it.”
Cooper also asked graduates to accept advice when it’s given, be a mentor and a leader now and decide what is really important in life and focus. He reminded the newly-minted MDs that within a couple of months they will be residents at hospitals around the country and responsible for medical students who will look up to them. It provides an opportunity for mentorship, he noted.
"Find time to identify and address the issues that really matter. Not everything is equally important. Years ago, a colleague who was a few years ahead of me in Brigham and Women’s Hospital was joking but gave me sage advice when he said, ‘It takes a lot of work to write a small grant ,and it takes a lot of work to write a big grant. Why write a small grant?’ While some of you may never write a grant, the point is life is a lot of work, and there are always things that need to be done. Decide what makes the most impact and allocate your time and attention accordingly.”
Cooper said graduates are part of a changing world in which new techniques and procedures are being perfected every day.
"There are very active discussions right now about whether the return patient visit for common conditions will disappear over the next few years and be replaced by virtual visits,” said Cooper. "Procedures and operations you are charged to do will disappear into irrelevance as they are replaced with new approaches.”
So how does one remain relevant?
"You must be committed to lifelong learning,” said Cooper. "You must focus on basic truths. Ask the questions. Is this biologically plausible? What is the strength of evidence? Does it make a difference in the life of my patient? Also, know that as your role changes you need to change.”
Graduates along with family members and friends also heard remarks from College of Medicine Dean William Ball, MD, William "Wym” Portman III, vice-chair of the UC Board of Trustees, and fourth-year medical student Elizabeth Nell Peters, who delivered the class speech.
Portman told graduates that they are the embodiment of UC’s blueprint for future success known as "Next Lives Here”
"You are greatest measure of what we mean by next,” said Portman. "You are our greatest agents for creating the future and impacting positive change. You are the next. Your career ahead, and indeed, your life are destined to be an endless series of next. That’s a good thing because the alternative is standing still.
"So next lives and breathes at the University of Cincinnati and in our world because of you,” said Portman. "Class of 2018, take this as a chance to create not to just enter the future. As Steve Jobs who actually created his own company said at a graduation prior to his passing, "Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. Most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. You somehow know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary, so seize this opportunity to start the best not just for yourself but to create a better world for one and all.”
Ball also supported Cooper’s thoughts about lifelong learning.
"The greatest challenge you are going to face is that the world has an excelled pace of change with an explosion every day of new knowledge,” he said. "While you graduate today full of that knowledge, you are fully responsible for all future knowledge and the hope that it will bring for tomorrow.
"Medicine must advance through a continual process of providing effectiveness,” said Ball. "You have to be able to reflect on what that really means. Reflect on that statement and just remember how medicine has changed from the first day you walked into our college until today in which you are now graduating.
"Also reflect on the fact that change will continue, and so, you have to be able to keep up throughout your entire lifetime to be effective. This reality will eventually set in perhaps on the very first day of your residency. It will set in that your education has not ended; it’s just begun. Your prolonged effectiveness lies in you becoming a lifelong learner.
"One thing you can rest assured is that the practice of medicine will continue to undergo significant change. It is now up to you, not your professors, to keep up and insure that your efforts never loss the humanism of medicine," said Ball.
"We need you to become increasingly invested in diverse care and the well-being of all people from every walk of life. We also need you to be activists for the health and well-being for your community in which you have the privilege of being able to serve. It has to go beyond your own practice of medicine, but you must also contribute and be part of achieving overall community health. We need you to be healers, teachers and leaders because you are our future," said Ball. "Take this as a charge. Remember this is not a job; it’s a calling.”
During Honors Day, several awards were presented to student and faculty including the 2018 Excellence in Public Health Award, which went to fourth-year medical student Christian James Williams. The award is given to a student who develops or implements programs that help educate patients about a specific disease or to promote healthy lifestyle choices.
The Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award was presented to faculty and student recipients. Ndidi Unaka, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics in the UC College of Medicine and associate program director of the Pediatric Residency Training program at Cincinnati Children’s, is this year’s faculty awardee, while Ellen Pittman, a fourth-year medical student, is the student honoree. The Tow award recognizes individuals who emphasize humanism in the delivery of care to patients and their families.
Two UC faculty members in the College of Medicine received the Daniel Drake Medal, the highest honor the college can bestow on living faculty or alumni. This year’s medalists were Andrew Filak Jr., MD, senior associate dean for academic affairs, and Robert Luke, MD, emeritus professor of internal medicine.
Three College of Medicine faculty also received awards for outstanding teaching and mentorship. Peirce Johnston, MD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, will receive the Gold Apple Award, while Jeffrey Schlaudecker, MD, Department of Family and Community Medicine, and Krishna Athota, MD, Department of Surgery, will receive Silver Apple Awards.
For more than four decades, medical students have upheld the tradition of giving "apples” to their favorite teachers at their commencement ceremony. The Gold and Silver Apple Awards program was established in 1968 by the Pi Kappa Epsilon fraternity. The idea was to give the students the chance to recognize professors who had the most impact on their medical career—and life path—by serving as excellent instructors and mentors.