Arthur Kellerman 2012 Graduation Speech

class of 2012 friends family members
supporters many of you will recognize the name of Dr. Bill Foege one of the
great figures in public health worldwide and an individual that a long and
distinguished history of connection with this school Bill Foege recently received
quite justifiably the Presidential Award of freedom he had an extraordinary
career in public health including a very high impact stint as director of the CDC
in 1984 shortly after he stepped down as CDC director he offered the following
advice to his colleagues if the Centers for Disease Control is to maintain the
reputation it now enjoys it will be because in everything we do behind
everything we say as the basis of every program decision we see faces so in the
few minutes that we have together I’d like you to come back with me in time to
the ER of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta Atlanta’s only level one trauma
center and only public hospital where I met two parents one night not unlike
your own it took them two hours to reach atlanta from the North Georgia Mountains
I face them across the outstretched body of their son as the nurse led them into
the trauma Bay’s and closed the heavy leaded doors behind us the noise and
chatter and beeps of the ER kind of climbed it down and it was the two of
them their son me and some life-support machines a ventilator was hissing
rhythmically 12 breaths a minute a chest tube was bubbling constantly you could
hear the beeping of the cardiac monitor dad was staring down at the floor he
couldn’t make eye contact he was just trying to hold it together and process
what had happened the mother was staring straight into my eyes I spoke first I
said your son was in a terrible crash his truck left
the road at high speed the EMTs could tell he was critically injured that’s
why they called a helicopter he reached us about two hours ago he’s got several
internal injuries none of which immediately require surgery he’s also
got a collapsed lung but those aren’t his biggest problems it’s his brain
injury that worries us the most at that moment mom interrupted and said doctor I
don’t know how to ask you this but I must my husband lost his job six weeks
ago I work but my employer doesn’t offer health insurance is my son and then her
voice broke is my son going to get the care he needs I looked at her as she
cried wait in a moment and then I said ma’am you’re at Grady Hospital one of
the south great trauma centers everyone who works here does it because we
believe in what this place stands for I swear to you we will do everything in
our power to save your son I meant what I said but I didn’t tell her the whole
truth I didn’t tell her and our best may not be good enough and if your son
survives he’ll probably be disabled for the rest of his life I didn’t tell her
and you’ll be billed for the helicopter ride the ER care the days two weeks to
come in the ICU and your bill your son’s bill will probably exceed a quarter
million dollars maybe more I didn’t tell her and because of who you and your
husband are you’ll do everything you can to make good on that bill you’ll
mortgage your house you’ll sell your farm you’ll empty your savings you’ll
try to borrow money from your other family members and friends and it won’t
be nearly enough and the unpaid balance of your bill will push one of the
South’s great trauma centers closer to insolvency closer to its own crash but
perhaps most sadly of all I didn’t tell her that her son’s devastating injuries
were completely and utterly if he hadn’t been driving so fast if he
hadn’t had two beers before he headed for home if he’d only buckled his
seatbelt 25 years of emergency medicine has made me a zealot for public health
because I have seen what happens again and again when public health fails
tragic moments like these however are balanced by moments of triumph moments
of victory moments of great satisfaction it’s immensely gratifying to know as a
physician that when you care for a patient to make a difference that you
can see it you can feel it and they know it too that eye contact that handshake
that thank you it keeps us going as public health professionals you’re not
going to get much of that you’re not your patients who are in fact every
member of the communities you will serve may not even know you exist they may not
have a clue what you’ve done to help them what tragedy you’ve prevented how
their lives would be totally different but for your efforts so you’re going to
have to substitute that handshake that eye contact that thank you with the
knowledge that in some small way or perhaps in some very large way your
efforts your ideas your work will change the lives of hundreds thousands perhaps
millions of people I am absolutely certain that over the course of my
career I say far more lives with my public health work than I did in 25
years of clinical practice in one of the busiest ers in America you will too
great challenges await you some are on the other side of the world some are
just up the street when I was a UW public health student it was not
uncommon to read in the Seattle newspapers stories about gun violence in
Los Angeles imagine how I felt last week as I read the law say
times about gun violence and co this is particularly ironic for me because my
first major study as a UW public health student was an analysis of firearm
related fatalities in homes in King County Washington that research
culminated many years later with a 10-year partnership with the community
law enforcement and prosecutors focused on reducing gun violence in Atlanta
Georgia that effort used the foundation principles of public health epidemiology
prevention program evaluation and we made a big difference gun violence and
gun homicide dropped like a rock during that period of time it works each of you
each of you will find comparable opportunities in your career in your
area passion or your area of expertise and by doing so you will save the
outcomes of countless stories thanks to work that each of you will do a woman in
West Africa won’t die in childbirth a child in Haiti won’t die of cholera a
young family in India won’t be devastated by polio or measles or some
other very preventable disease three teenage girls in bellingham will receive
their high school diplomas because they will not die in a car crash the night
before graduation and maybe just maybe no mother in this country in the future
will have to ask the ER doctor if her son will get the care he means multiply
these stories by millions and you begin to grasp the power of public health
class of 2012 you’re graduating from one of the world’s great universities and
one of the finest schools of Public Health on the planet with the receipt of
your degree you’re going to join the ranks of one of the noblest professions
on earth those of you who are gathered here today to cheer you on and many more
who wanted to be here but could not attend are very very proud of you
when this ceremony is concluded I encourage you to celebrate this
wonderful occasion and enjoy the heartfelt congratulations of your family
members your loved ones and your friends then go home and get a good night’s
sleep because tomorrow morning you have a world of work to do congratulations

2 thoughts on “Arthur Kellerman 2012 Graduation Speech

  1. One of the best explanations of why public health matters from an ER doc that thinks and feels deeply.

  2. I just listen to Mr Arthur Killeman 2012 Graduation Speech.

    What a uplifting, very intelligence Doctor, God Bless America.

    Now for the bad news it 2018, and I am really sorry to say something went very wrong, I am unable to get my serious health issues found fixed to the best and go on with my life. Four years later, I still have major pain, chronic nausea and kidney problems. The last surgeon, which I just seen a week ago toke affect by my coming onto his office with my problems. I never in all my year had a physician treat me with less than acceptable actions, language and total distress.

    All I was doing was to find out why and this was the return.

    He was unable to help me and I left feeling much worst than before I had entered and waited with hope for answers, never hsppen. To this day I still need to find out what is going on, but must find a new surgion

    Thank you for your time.

    Sarah Browning
    Boise, Idaho. 83616

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