In their final few weeks as students, graduating medical classes elect two of their peers for special recognitions.
For many years, one member has been designated to represent them and take responsibility for ensuring that their identity as a family of friends and professional colleagues is maintained through the years to come. Being elected Permanent Class President is therefore an expression of trust and of faith in a particular individual. That person is chosen, I believe, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because he or she understands and respects the desire of the class to maintain the ties and connections that have been forged through their common four-year experience. Secondly, the class members believe that person has the organizational ability and drive to ensure the role is fulfilled. Considering how well students get to know each other during their time together, achieving this position of trust is obviously a considerable tribute. Meds 2015 is fortunate to have many worthy people to choose from, but ultimately the honour fell to Josie Xu.
Over her four years with us, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Josie quite well. She comes from a community to the west of Kingston called Toronto. She did an undergraduate degree in Health Sciences at McMaster where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Since coming to our school, she has given freely of her time in support of her medical school community, serving as Vice-President of the First Year Class Council, Interview Weekend Organizer, Mentorship Program Coordinator, Student Building Coordinator, Producer of Medical Variety Night Videos, and Aesculapian Society Vice-President of Internal Affairs. She has also been involved in the organization of the Manuary Kingston Campaign, in support of awareness and support for the treatment of head and neck cancer, working with Dr. Jason Franklin. In all these capacities, Josie has demonstrated herself to be selfless in the support of her various communities. She is also what people in senior management and leadership positions would call a “finisher”. Josie can be relied upon to complete what she undertakes to do, and to do so very well. Put quite simply, she can be trusted at her word to finish what she starts. An expression of that commitment is that Josie’s first call when she heard she’d been elected to the role of Permanent Class President was to call me to find out what would actually be involved. She wanted to ensure she could take this on. Clearly, she can. Josie will be continuing her postgraduate training in Otolaryngology in Toronto, a move that will take her closer to her family, which will be important to her. I’m sure Josie’s close family ties were important in developing the sense of community responsibility and engagement that has been and, I’m sure, will continue to be an important part of her career.
The position of Convocation Speaker has a much shorter tradition. This began four years ago, recognizing and addressing a desire to allow our graduating students to become more actively involved in their graduation ceremonies. The first three speakers, Jason Booy, Alex Summers and Yan Sim proved to all in attendance that the student voice adds immeasurably to this very special event. This year, the 2015 class has chosen Aaron Wynn to speak on their behalf.
Aaron hails from Whitby, Ontario, having come to Queen’s to complete an Honours degree in Life Sciences. While in medical school, Aaron was co-founder of Making Waves Kingston, a non-profit program that provides affordable swimming lessons to children with special needs. He also supported his peers by serving as their Clinical Skills representative during the pre-clerkship years, essentially serving as a liaison between students a faculty – a position that requires considerable tact and diplomacy. During that time, he participated in the development of our OSCE programs, again working with students, administrative staff and faculty. Aaron has also participated as a facilitator in our “Being a Medical Student” program, helped organize Orientation Week activities for the 2016 class, and was selected by his peers to provide “Pearls of Wisdom” to junior students. My particular memory of Aaron relates to his experience with the First Patient Program. In this program, pairs of first year students are assigned to patients in the community who have chronic medical conditions of some type, and have volunteered to allow the student to meet with them and follow them over 18 months, spanning all of the first and half of the second medical year. Students are expected to visit the patients in their homes, learn of their illness and struggles, accompany them to encounters with their doctors, hospital or health providers, and meet with their attending physicians. The program is intended to allow the students to see the illness experience through the eyes of the patient and their family, before they have begun to assume the provider role. As will sometimes occur in a program of this nature, Aaron’s first patient passed away during the period of follow-up. This required Aaron and his FPP partner to encounter the grief experience for the first time, and very early in their training. They engaged this by seeking help and carrying out a review of the grief experience, which they were able to share with their peers. This also caused us to reconsider the teaching of grief within our curriculum. Aaron was therefore able to transform a difficult and personally challenging adversity into a formative opportunity, not only for himself, but also for his peers, our school and, by extension, for learners that will follow. Next July, Aaron will be entering the Family Medicine residency program at McMaster University.
There’s been much talk recently about the meaning of “Leadership” in the context of medical education (see “Is Leadership a Physician Competency?”). The concept that appears to be emerging is of a service-based model of leadership that involves a sense of personal mission and willingness to engage responsibility within various communities, attributes that might actually be better termed “citizenship”. Josie and Aaron are personifications of that concept. Their rewards for the service-based leadership they’ve provided consists of the appreciation of their peers, and the “honour” of being asked to provide even greater service, filling important new roles. Although Josie and Aaron have been singled out for these recognitions, I appreciate as I write this article that I could develop impressive tributes for virtually every member of our graduating class, all of whom have made contributions to our school and to their various communities during their time with us. All “leaders” in their individual ways. All bringing to mind the spirit that Alex Summers expressed so well in his convocation address a couple of years ago when he invoked the title bestowed on Norman Bethune – a “light who pursues kindness”. The Class of 2015 indeed shines brightly.