Commencement Post…and Speech!

It’s been such a pleasure to write for the Student Speak blog this year. I am incredibly impressed by the innovative and inspiring words my colleagues present. I thought I’d make my final post one that hopefully seeks to inspire as well, through the unparalleled opportunity I had in addressing students during my own graduation ceremony. Thank you so much…

Commencement Speech by Nathaniel Warren, MPH Candidate

 There must be some irony in that I’m speechless for this incomparable honor…thank you all so very much for the opportunity to share my thoughts.  I am so grateful to have had such a supportive group of friends, family and faculty leading to this culminating event of graduation.

Sports announcers sometimes talk about “Cinderella stories” – athletes that advance much further than anyone would give them credit. I want to draw comparison through one such story, about a man who did the impossible. Despite childhood abandonment, a brother lost to violence, homelessness and constant poverty, at 62 years old, Charles Bradley landed a deal with the famous Daptone Records, top bookings at music fests like SXSW and Bonnaroo and an international tour spanning 17 countries and three continents. How was this possible? Pushing forward against all obstacles, Bradley’s talent, heart and perseverance won the war for survival and ultimately, success.

Never before has the need for talent, heart and perseverance to rise amongst health professionals been more critical. And, like Bradley questions through his track “Where Do We Go From Here,” as new graduates, we enter our careers into a brave new world. Healthcare is transforming. We’re seeing an unprecedented, fundamental paradigm shift from graduates of the past…and we get to lead the way. Here in Oregon, our state represents the point source of efforts to improve health access, cost, care and equity.

The New York Times recently promoted these efforts, stating that “grass-roots leadership holds the key to fixing health care in America.” Governor Kitzhaber described in the article Oregon’s bold experiment: “Local, interventionist, hands-on attention — reducing health problems before care is warranted or billed — means breaking deep tradition in a system that thinks mostly about treatment and response.” Kitzhaber went on to say, “We’re building something that’s never been built before.” By creating a culture of self-sufficiency in patients, promoting health literacy and disease prevention, and enacting community resilience, this objective is already underway.  An integrated approach to care that incorporates aspects of education, physical activity, nutrition and other “upstream” interventions represent our new common cause. The role of the health professional must influence both on the micro and macro level and, like Bradley’s unlikely success, we must recognize an appreciation of circumstance for each patient if our state’s own Cinderella story is to be achieved.

It would seem that few universities value the power of grass-roots, interdisciplinary leadership more than OHSU. From nursing to medicine to public health to dentistry, through partnerships on campus, with community agencies and through advocacy in our legislature, our voices and actions are strong. Even through my practicum at a local community health clinic, I’ve met other OHSU students who’ve brought their compassion and expertise to those most vulnerable, advancing an inspirationally collaborative model for healthcare delivery.

The challenges of this transformation are great; requiring the same level of determination, innovation and insight as our degree programs have demanded of us, perhaps even more. I believe we are able to meet the challenge. Numerous examples provide evidence for this, through OHSU projects like I-CAN (an acronym for Interprofessional Care Access Network), a School of Nursing grant to improve access to health care services for the uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable. Through free health screenings put on by OHSU nurses, physicians, dentists and other health professionals, community members have been able to receive medical check-ups, personal hygiene items, dental, vision and hearing exams, as well as educational materials and resources for social services, mental healthcare, housing, job assistance and much more. Even in fostering a sustainable grass-roots model for future leaders, OHSU has proposed the Scholars for a Healthy Oregon initiative, which pays the entire cost of tuition and fees for selected medical, dental, nurse practitioner, certified registered nurse anesthetist and physician assistant students in exchange for their commitment to working after graduation in Oregon’s underserved or rural communities. Through these and other examples, our collective compassion shines through.

“If you feel that you’ve got something good to give to the world to make this planet a greater place, don’t just hold it back,” said the now 64-year-old Bradley in a documentary chronicling his story, titled The Soul of America. “At my age now, I just want to give, give, give, give, because I don’t want to hold nothing back.”

Giving back isn’t just about altruism – it defines the future of healthcare, through collaboration across disciplines and through the support of transformative, lifesaving institutes like those for heart and cancer care at OHSU. Bradley’s story is a metaphor which holds tight to the notion that our future lies in strengthening our community. When we build up our country’s most vulnerable, we prove that by pushing forward despite barriers, empowering our collective strength and remaining grateful for our opportunities, anyone can rise.

Thank you.