The 2017 Class of Baylor College of Medicine heard words of inspiration from a national leader in healthcare diversity and were reminded of the responsibility they have as physicians and scientists to those who are disenfranchised.

Dr. Marc Nivet, executive vice president of institutional advancement at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and a leader in diversity issues, said, “It is because of our differences of thought, disciplines, heuristics, passion and ambition that we will find the cure for cancer or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is because of our individual differences of passion, curiosity, life experiences and personal attributes that we will also find more artful ways to care for patients, to care for communities. It is not despite our differences. It is because of them.”

Nivet presented the John E. Whitmore Lecture to the 167 graduates from the School of Medicine, 77 graduates from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, their families and friends at the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts Tuesday.

He told the graduates they were fortunate to have trained at Baylor, an institution “that really gets it.”

“The leadership here at Baylor College of Medicine knows and understands the hard truth: that there is still a painful and persistent gap in medicine for those who are the most disenfranchised among us. There is still disparity in how we administer healthcare to certain populations. Talking about it is no longer sufficient. We need to move from conversation about health equity to concrete plans to change things.”

Dr. Paul E. Klotman, president, CEO and executive dean of Baylor, also encouraged the graduates to make a difference, saying an unexpected new threat has emerged to science and healthcare: “Society’s lack of appreciation for all of the advances that we have made and the importance of science in our daily lives.”

“Regardless of your career path, it’s important to remember that the positive impact of medical science on mankind is a fact – not an alternative fact, a real fact – that needs constant focus and attention,” he said. “People often think of medical science in the abstract and that research will lead to some vague breakthrough for future generations. The reality is totally different. Medical science affects every one of us every day we are alive.”

“So this is not a time to sit back and hope that someone else solves these societal problems,” he continued. “This is a time for you to step up and tell people about your research, about the care you provide patients and why the medical treatments that patients often take for granted were developed through medical research.”

Klotman reminded the crowd that the human life span did not increase from an average of 35 years in the Roman Empire for more than 2000 years, until the 1850s, and then began increasing by three years per decade. Why? “It was then that the practice of science began to be integrated into the practice of medicine.”

Nivet, noting the graduates’ commitment to community service, said, “It is wonderful to see all of you lifting others as you climb. Caring for people who look like or don’t look like you. That is what a true leader does.”

“No one is exempt from bias, he said. “We are all prone to making snap judgments about people based on their superficial and group characteristics – unless we make a conscious effort to avoid them. Sometimes all it takes is taking one extra minute to remember that the patient is not a collection of statistics and symptoms. They are not a revenue source or a line item on a budget. They’re not even the test case that will be the feature of your next journal article. They are vulnerable human beings who need you to treat them as such.”

During the ceremony, Dr. Alicia Monroe, provost and senior vice president of academic and faculty affairs, announced Dr. James Phillips as the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. Phillips, senior associate dean in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, is an expert in advancing cultural diversity in postsecondary institutions and has been instrumental in helping to recruit students from groups that are historically underrepresented in medicine to Baylor.

Receiving honorary degrees were Dr. Norbert Bischofberger, executive vice president of research and development and chief scientific officer at Gilead Sciences; Dr. Jyoti Malhan, founding principal of the Baylor College of Medicine at Ryan, a medical magnet school in the Houston Independent School District; Marc Shapiro, a longtime banking executive and community leader who serves on the Baylor Board of Trustees and chairs the Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center Board of Directors; and Nivet, who previously served as chief diversity officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Giving remarks for the graduates were Alec Marin, representing the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, and Jiwen Li, president of the medical school Class of 2017.

Dr. Adam Kuspa, interim dean of the Graduate School, presented the candidates for their Ph.D. degrees and Dr. Jennifer Christner, dean of the School of Medicine, presented the medical school candidates for their M.D. degrees.

Dr. Joseph Kass, associate dean of student affairs, administered the Oath of Hippocrates to the medical school graduates.