Alumni President's Address 
Class Day
June 4, 2016

Graduates, my new fellow alumni,

Most of the people assembled today are here to bid you farewell. I have the distinct pleasure, as the President of the Geisel Alumni Council, on behalf of the Geisel alumni body, not only to congratulate you on your remarkable achievements, but to say "welcome." Welcome no longer as students, but as colleagues and peers, joining the ranks of the more than 5,000 fellow Geisel alumni of the fourth oldest medical school in the nation, scattered in 38 countries around the world.

As most of you will be leaving the Upper Valley and scattering across the country, our job as alumni leaders is to help you to keep connected through the miles and through the years to this amazing community, to your mentors, and most especially to your friends sitting around you.

I am truly proud of this institution and appreciate the incredible jewel we have of a community here in this rural Upper Valley. I also remain optimistic about where Geisel is going in the future. That said, I'm not unaware of the challenges facing all institutions of medical education nationwide, ours not withstanding. We see changes in the practice of medicine that have introduced technology and computer-generated records, which can sometimes seem to separate us from our patients, and affecting all is the absolute need for improvement in the delivery of health care, a system which too often seems broken.

In fact, it is just these things that make me, as an alumna, most excited about our institution. We are seeing the opportunity to be pioneers in Telemedicine, reaching rural parts of our own state, and translational research, collaborating from bench to bedside with the new Williamson translational complex recently occupied and active. We are exploring Informatics, which will allow us to access data and examine medical phenomena and collaborate in ways we have never been able, and to guide us to the best care of the patient. Benefiting from the advances of The Dartmouth Institute, Geisel has become one of the leaders in health care delivery science with some of the most innovative curriculum changes in medical education taught by pioneers in this discipline and deeply relevant to each of our graduates. You have been trained from year one to not only recognize a broken system, but to be influential leaders in your field and you have been given the skills to advance improvement in patient’s health and the healthcare system.

As you head off to a crazy busy residency, why is this important to you, as new alumni, and to me standing before you. Well, you are the future, living and creating these changes in your new institutions. Your ongoing life connection with Geisel will keep the home institution informed about your amazing discoveries, and they will be that, as you live out your medical careers in all aspects of medicine from clinical practice to business to research and industry engagement. We are committed to keeping you informed about the evolution of the Geisel mission in response to an ever-changing medical world and the world of medical education.

So much changes over time, and we must change with it; grades to pass/fail, DMS to Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, attendance not required in class, and on-line learning for example. Although sometimes the process can be frustrating, it is truly exciting to be born of an institution of excellence which will evolve and continue its excellence. It is our challenge as an Alumni Council to figure out how to best facilitate this relationship and we need you to help us. 

That being said, there is are some aspects of this medical school that are timeless and that we all hope will never change. The Geisel or Dartmouth graduate and the faculty know that this is a special and unique place; it is something we have experienced and find hard to explain. It is this community that nurtured you through these transformative years. It is in the formal and the hidden curriculum, the focus on communication, on the patient’s story, on service, and on developing personal resilience in part through mindfulness and honest reflection.  It is the incredible devotion and engagement of the basic science, hospital, and community-based clinical faculty to passionately teach students and build relationships, to invite students into their homes and lives, and to pour themselves into students, providing guidance and constant belief in their best. Something special happens here. The experience at Geisel is much more than a medical education.

Your amazing experience here at Geisel didn't just happen. It certainly helps that the stage is the beautiful Upper Valley nestled between mountain ranges and with the Connecticut River its center. If you had a great experience and an environment conducive to learning and growing, it was not through happenstance, but through the hard work and intentional efforts of a whole school community, including employees, faculty, mentors, and - yes, alumni. Alumni have been quietly supporting this graduating class throughout your medical school journey. From the welcome note you each received from an alumnus in the pocket of your new white coat as a first-year, to the sharing of experience by specialty network alumni at student interest groups and panels, to hosting students during travel for residency interviews, and for financial support of the school and for scholarships. Now your role transitions…it doesn't end. With gratitude, take this transformative experience we call Geisel with you where you go, and remain connected.

I was, perhaps, the first 4th year “Splitter” at Dartmouth, to have my second child. Because of that I, like many of you, now identify with 2 classes and, therefore, have the luxury of 2 reunions: with the class of 89, and of 90.  I wouldn’t miss either. A wonderful experience at (one of) my 25th Geisel reunions here on the Dartmouth campus reinforced for me the importance of connecting not only with my classmates, but with alumni across the years. There were 40 people at my home the first night of reunion. It was truly amazing. We had wonderful conversations, catching up, reengaging. The next day many of my classmates took a tour of the old haunts; Kellogg, Chilcott and anatomy lab, and in each place we sat and recalled stories and memories, remembering our faculty, our firsts. Hysterical, really! My classmate cornered by a belly dancer sent during lab in Chilcott to celebrate a 30th birthday; pranks, skits, Moosilauke, Tom Dent cabin, heart rounds (then called liver rounds), really amazing how we remembered the days so fondly.

As about 10 of us headed towards the parking lot to take a spontaneous group hike up Gile Mountain, I was approached by a small group of significantly younger reunioners, from the class of '99 at their 15th reunion, who had heard me earlier as I happily shared the joy I was experiencing in my career as an emergency physician, a faculty member, and mentor at Geisel. She shared that the 4 of them were experiencing extreme frustration in their careers, needed encouragement and advice, and asked if I would have time to talk, "How about now? Can you join us on Gile Mountain?" The short Gile Mountain hike still lent itself to a brief rest, and while we sat the young alums were encouraged to share their difficult situations. Things looked really glum to them, and so I asked my classmates to share their own words of wisdom and advice. Even though we had never met, the conversation reflected honesty, humility, humor, and compassion. As Geisel alums all, we spoke the same language which reflected common values. It was fantastic: the whole weekend rekindled my appreciation for this place and my distant classmates.

Here's my point: these things don't usually just happen. Don't be afraid to capture the moment and show up for someone, show up for reunion. As a physician, you have the opportunity and responsibility to be compassionately intentional in every situation you are placed; and, as a Geisel graduate, you have these skills. If you are faced with something that is unpleasant or obstructive, maybe even unethical, be observant, carefully listening, look for a way to change the culture by your own behavior, reframe difficult situations in a positive way to move forward.  Always believe in that individual’s best, knowing that most people are doing the best they can with what they have, and believe in yourself at those challenging moments.

Be a leader in facilitating opportunities for building relationship as you go forward. Be intentional about connecting, maintain contacts through social media, reach out to alums in your region, host an event, or a student, write a white coat ceremony note, come back for reunions…(or two), be a class rep or serve on the alumni council, support the institutional mission of Geisel and student scholarships, come back and teach at Geisel. We have a diverse student body; we seek a diverse faculty. For now go and do good work in your residencies. We don't expect to hear much for a few years, but remember, like medical school, residency is not 3-7 years of your life "set aside." The demands change their form, but balance is never more important than when a lot is being asked of you. So stay connected with those you care about most, come back for your 5th reunion, and call on your friends both near or far when you need encouragement, myself included.

Your Geisel community is here--in the Upper Valley and around the world--to support you.

You will always be part of this Geisel family.

Congratulations and welcome!

Sarah G. Johansen, MD
(Dartmouth School of Medicine 1989 & ’90)
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Assistant Professor of Community and Family Medicine

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