Monday, May 19, 2008

Inspiration by Commencement Speech

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending my sister's graduation from medical school. It was a truly wonderful experience and a wonderful day.  Boston University Medical School chose a non-traditional graduation speaker, and I have been thinking about his speech for the past 24 hours. BUSM students chose Dean Kamen, the engineer and inventor of the Segway motor scooter, to speak to at the medical school graduation. He was a non-traditional speaker because he is an engineer by trade, not a doctor. However, many of the 400+ devices he has patented are medical devices for the most sick patients at hospitals.  He spoke of how he was inspired to invent tiny catheters to treat babies with leukemia by watching his brother, a pediatric oncologist.  He continued inventing catheters and stents for people with end-stage renal failure, catheters that free them from dialysis centers and allow peritoneal dialysis at home.  He was inspired by watching doctors care for the most sick patients in the hospital; he was awed by their courage and caring. 

His parting message for doctors was about how important they are to so many other people.  He listed the ways doctors are extraordinary and the incredible power they have to change lives.  I wish we heard more law school graduation speakers deliver a similar message about our field; we can change lives in way we don't think about everyday.  Most law school graduation speakers I know of are attorneys. That is great, but attorneys telling future attorneys about how important we are doesn't send the same message as someone who has had their life changed by the work of a courageous attorney. 

Dean Kamen also spent a large part of his time speaking about the importance of moving innovative medical devices through the FDA.  I wish I could show his speech to 1L's, especially those who are undecided about law, and 2L's questioning their faith in public service in the face of big-firm job offers. The law has the power to save lives, however, in much less glamorous ways than a doctor or an inventor.  The pay for saving lives isn't quite what it is for a big-firm attorney. We need more attorneys fighting for the rights of patients; these attorneys are unsung heroes.

(Rebecca Flanagan)

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