PCOM GRADUATION AUGUST 2000
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,