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Class of 2021: Embrace Hardships, the Moment and Humility

By April Wilkerson 
Writer, OU College of Medicine

Greg Krempl, M.D., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, speaks at the 2017 White Coat Ceremony for first-year medical students.

To welcome the OU College of Medicine Class of 2021, Greg Krempl, M.D., told students to expect many changes in the field they are entering, from new technologies to medical advances. But his advice to them focused on how to keep themselves grounded in their future professions.

Krempl, chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, gave the keynote address during the White Coat Ceremony welcoming first-year medical students and cloaking them with their first white coats. He recommended that the students embrace three things during their education and careers – hardship, the moment and humility.

“I define hardship as the experiences that try us that are external to us,” he said. “They happen to us and we have to react to them. Medical school is full of them. But I want to point out that hardships are not unusual. Every chapter of life has hardships and, if we’re honest about it, ours are not unique and, in most cases, are not worse than anyone else’s. … My suggestion is that you embrace the hardships that you’ll face, not with a ‘poor me’ attitude, but with an attitude of eagerness and a positive outlook. I believe hardships are opportunities for growth and they’ll prepare you for the future.”

Krempl encouraged students to embrace the moment rather than looking down the road for a better time and place in life. Humans are prone to “if only” thoughts: If only I could get the perfect job … if only I could pay off my student debt … if only I could be at the top of my class.

“When we do that, we disengage from the moment and the opportunity to grow through the experiences of hardship,” he said. “My advice is to seize the moment and enjoy it, not looking to the future or hoping and dreaming for a better day.”

Finally, Krempl encouraged students to embrace humility. Physicians are continually faced with contrasts: rich and poor; those with knowledge and those without; those with disease and those without; those who’ve been down this road before and those who are experiencing it for the first time.

“Humility can be exemplified in at least three ways with our patients,” he said. “First, remember that were it not for a decision or circumstance in your life, you could be them and them you. Our patients are also people. Try to understand them, try to truly empathize with them, and even do that if, at first blush, they are strikingly different from you.

“Second, don’t boast in your exultation or accomplishments. You’ve seen the billboard that says, ‘People who text and drive hate people who text and drive.’ I’ll modify that: ‘People who boast of their own accomplishments hate people who boast of their own accomplishments.’

Last, remember the incredible privilege we have in health care. Your patients choose you. My patients put amazing trust in me. They let me cut them and remove parts from them. They take medicine that has side effects, from a complete stranger. That trust is something that was earned by people in our profession before us. As you embark in health care, it’s my deepest desire that you become one of the doctors who will someday care for me. Never forget that patients have a name, and that you have an opportunity to practice medicine for your patients.”