August 22, 2003

Gabbe encourages medical students to face challenges head on

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In his convocation speech last week, Dean of the School of Medicine Dr. Steven G. Gabbe compared medical school to the climbing of Mount Everest. Tommy Lawson

Gabbe encourages medical students to face challenges head on

Fifty years ago, Sir Edmund Hillary, a beekeeper from New Zealand, and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa, followed their dreams and were the first to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest. Their exciting journey was compared to four years of graduate medical education at last week’s convocation speech given to the 104 first-year medical students by Dr. Steven G. Gabbe, dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

George Mallory, who nearly reached the summit in 1924, said he wanted to climb Mount Everest“ because it is there,” but many have tried to conquer Everest because it’s a challenge, Gabbe told the students.

“Why become a physician? Because it is a challenge? Perhaps, but more likely, and each of you know this, because you have a passion, a dream to help others and benefit our society. Everest attracts adventurers who have faith in themselves, have great determination and endurance. You too have all of these qualities,” Gabbe said.

The American expedition of 1963 included 900 Sherpas carrying 27 tons of supplies. “As a medical student, you can rely upon us to be your guides, but reaching your M.D. degree will demand your individual effort, and you will have to do much of the heavy lifting,” Gabbe said.

Gabbe told the students about the “dead zone” on Mount Everest, the point at nearly 26,000 feet where the oxygen content of the air at that altitude cannot support life and the temperatures fall 40 degrees below zero.

“There is no ‘dead zone’ in medical school, a point beyond which life, and I’m referring to your social life, cannot be supported,” Gabbe said. “Unlike those who are climbing Mount Everest who have limited contact with the outside world, we want you to continue leading a balanced life with adequate time for family and friends, exercise, music, or other hobbies.”

The summit for the first-year class will be walking across the stage of Langford Auditorium in May 2007 to receive their degrees. But their climb won’t stop there, Gabbe said.

“Those of us who are fortunate enough to become physicians still have many ‘big things’ to do, many ‘great peaks’ to climb — finding a cure for cancer, for diabetes, for AIDS, for Alzheimer’s disease; providing care for the uninsured; reducing infant mortality and other disparities in healthcare and healthcare outcomes for our diverse population; and reducing errors in medical care. Please know that we are committed to your success, to supporting you as you climb toward your first ‘great peak,’ your M.D. degree, and, we look forward to your help as together we attempt to conquer many of the ‘great peaks’ in medicine that have yet to be climbed.”