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Judy's Speech

At the end of August, I had the honor to be the keynote speaker at a graduation ceremony. For 15 years, Iíve taught traditional Western medicine to students of acupuncture and Chinese medicine at a college known as Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. As I wrote my speech, I found my Miller ancestors creeping into it and adding their voices to my own. I thought the family might appreciate what they had to say, and so have appended my (relatively brief!) comments to the Class of 2000.

Love to everyone,
Judy Wikler Botello

Here's the speech:
Judy Goldstein, M.D.

Itís a great honor to be sharing this rite of passage with all of you and to have the opportunity to extend my personal congratulations to every one of you. Youíve worked extremely hard, and youíve certainly earned this special moment in the sun. 

Enjoy itóbecause now that youíve reached this longed-for goal, the real hard work is just beginning. Thatís both the good news and the bad news:  good news because you are entering the health care field at a tremendously exciting time, a time of great transition, vast horizons, and endless opportunities for success. What used to be called ďalternative medicineĒ is alternative no more. You are plunging headlong into the mainstream of modern medicine. Thatís the good news, but itís also the bad news, because as you become part of the mainstream, you will be vulnerable to all the pitfalls faced by your Western-trained cousins in medicineópeople like meóthe pitfalls and challenges that come with success. 

Recently I received a letter from a Western medicine colleague who is retiring. In the letter, he thanked us, his colleagues, for supporting him over the years in the practice of ďthe kind of medicine we all dreamed about practicing when we started out.Ē I found that very touching. It implied a shared dream, the dream that all of us in the health care field have as we begin; the dream that all of you share today. It also implied that some of us have fallen away from that dream over the years, that we are not practicing the kind of medicine we dreamed about when we started out. It set me to thinking about just how tough it really is to be true to your own standards day after day, year after year.  The vast majority of physicians, whatever type of training they receive, become doctors for the same reasons:   they want to help others in some meaningful way. The vast majority of physicians, both Western and TCM, start out like most of you today:  dedicated to treating the whole person, determined to spend adequate time with each patient, convinced of your ability to be caring and compassionate.

Now many of you are thinking about that Western doc you know who spent all of three minutes with you and threw a prescription in your direction while running toward the next appointment. You are saying to yourselves, ďWestern doctors certainly donít treat the whole person, but WE DO! Western doctors arenít caring and compassionate, but WE ARE!Ē Well, you know, in medical school I never once heard a professor say, ďSpend as little time as possible with each patient.Ē I never heard a professor say, ďTreat only the patientís most superficial symptoms, and whatever you do, donít consider the whole person.Ē I never heard a professor say, ďFor godís sake, donít fall into the trap of compassion!Ē On the other hand, speaking as a fairly experienced consumer of acupuncture, I can tell you about the acupuncturist I had been seeing for several months for arthritis in my hands. She was always in a huge rush, and one day she came into the treatment room (where I had been waiting, by the way, for a good 15 or 20 minutes) and said, ďHi, Judy, howís the knee doing?Ē My knee was fine, always had been fine; it was my hands that were bothering me. Did I feel like a cog in her machine?  Itís commonly pointed out that TCM practitioners spend extended periods of time with each patient; my experience with almost every acupuncturist Iíve ever seen, is that they spend about two minutes talking to me, maybe 5 minutes putting needles in, and then leave to see other patients. I donít mind relaxing while listening to soothing Asian music, but on several occasions Iíve been left abandoned on the table for well over an hour, until my muscles are cramping and I feel forgotten.

Now I donít say this by way of complainingóIím just trying to point out that you will face the same temptations and pitfalls that everyone faces as you encounter that greatest of all challenges:  Success! You will have more patients than you can handle. You will work long hours. You will be tired. You will feel burned out. And thatís when the spiritual work of becoming a healer really starts. Thatís when you call upon the Great Spirit to show you the way. Success can be a more demanding teacher than failure. But if you remain open to the lessons that come your way, you will come through the Valley of the Shadow of Success with a new wisdom, the wisdom that comes with real day-by-day work experienced in an attitude of humility and learning. Then, and only then, you will have earned the right to call yourself a physician.

My oldest son is getting married in a few weeks, and my husband and I recently bought the young couple a silver cake knife engraved with their names and the date of their wedding. Itís beautiful and shiny and new, that cake knife, just like the young lovers are right now, and just like all of you are today with your shiny faces full of pride and hope for the future. But lovely as you are at this moment, you will all be lovelier still when you have acquired what my mother used to lovingly call patina:  that deep inner glow that comes from being well-used, well-seasoned; all the little scars and dents that add up to wisdom. The new silver knife I just bought is so smooth that when you look at it, you see your own face reflected back at you. Thatís you guys right now:  Your careers are so new that, when you gaze at them, you mostly see your own faces reflecting back.  But in a special drawer in my dining room, I have another silver cake knife, a family heirloom thatís come down to me from the 25th wedding anniversary of my great-great grandparents (it has engraved on it the dates 1854-1879.) When that cake knife was new, I imagine that Rosa and Jacob, my ancestors, saw their own faces shining back from the gleaming silver. But to me, the silver is now infinitely more beautiful than it has ever been, because it has acquired the deep inner glow of a fine patina. When you hold it up, you certainly donít see your own face reflected. Instead, you see a century and a half of faces, faces known and unknown, faces young and old, laughing and crying, loving and struggling. You see a century and a half of people learning from their failures and, most difficult of all, learning from their success. 

So, my dear ones, may the years of hard work that lie ahead bring you not fatigue, but wisdom, and may the success that surely awaits you bring you not arrogance, but true humility. May the shiny promise of this silver graduation day never tarnish, but rather deepen and mature into the priceless gift of a fine patina. And as my great-great-grandparents would have said, MAZEL TOV! 

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