June 5, 2019

‘We made it. And we are finally doctors.’

Despite June 4 being a day at least four years in the making, members of the Wayne State University School of Medicine M.D. Class of 2019 gathered outside the Fox Theatre in Detroit were almost eerily calm about what lay ahead.

A Class of 2019 M.D. graduate poses with a friend before walking across the Fox Theatre stage in Detroit on June 4, 2019.

“It’s kind of surreal that we’re going to be doctors. I can’t wrap my head around it,” Mitra Bahaee said.

Inside, only two hours later, Dr. Bahaee and her 270 classmates would receive their medical degrees at the 151st Commencement and Hooding Ceremony of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“I don’t know when it’s going to settle in, but maybe after this,” said Class of 2019 President Erika Etnyre, M.D.

Etnyre
Class of 2019 President Erika Etnyre, M.D., receives her diploma from Dean Jack D. Sobel, M.D. at gradution on June 4, 2019 at the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

The Michigan native who grew up in suburban Sterling Heights will live in another state for the first time in her life, moving to North Carolina for a residency at Wake Forest University. “When is another chance where you can take your life and move it somewhere else?” she asked.

Ahmad Al-Awadi, M.D., started his day with a massive and lengthy hug from his beaming mother, Selima Al-Awadi, and dozens of photos with his father, two brothers, sister and wife.

“I am happy. He gave me my happiness,” Selima said.

The Toronto native and first-generation physician has spent the last four years in Detroit, and is now moving further from his family, to Jacksonville, Fla., for a Family Medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic.

Inside, family and friends applauded, cheered and even shouted their loved ones’ names, the bursts of emotional sprinkled through the two-hour ceremony.

“You are the first class I welcomed into medicine at the White Coat Ceremony four years ago,” said Dean Jack D. Sobel, M.D. “We at Wayne State are special. The medical world you now face expects more from you, because you are better. Never forget who you are and where you came from.”

Half of the Class of 2019 will remain in Michigan for residencies, including roommates Taylor Anderson and Laxmi Kotha, who are both entering residencies in Grand Rapids. Anderson will study Neurology and Kotha will study General Surgery. The two are part of a group of friends who lived in University Towers and bonded over a Pilates class shortly after starting medical school. “We’ve all been together essentially for four years,” Anderson said.

The hours before graduation were spent taking plenty of family photos.

Overall, 20 Michigan-based health systems and centers will welcome Wayne State University graduates to residencies this summer. Graduates moving out of Michigan will practice medicine in 29 states and in Canada, at 125 hospitals, universities and medical centers.

“We made it,” Dr. Etnyre said. “And we are finally doctors.”

President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., congratulates the new alumni of the School of Medicine.

School of Medicine faculty, deans, department chairs, WSU President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., his cabinet members and other WSU dignitaries filled the venue stage in support of the graduates.

“Be good to medicine and, I assure you, medicine will be good to you. Enjoy every moment of this special day,” President Wilson said.

Commencement keynote speaker Robert Folberg, M.D., the founding dean of the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Mich., spoke of the need for humanism in medicine by relating his own stories. The first, his experience with a less-than-kind surgeon while having a corneal transplant that led to wound-healing complications as a teenager, and another of watching a chief resident in her first year of residency quietly covering the body of an undressed patient who had gone in to cardiac arrest, while other argued about what to do next.

Dean Jack D. Sobel, M.D., congratulates a graduate on stage.

“Although the science and technology saved the patient’s life, only kindness could save their dignity,” he said. “Members of the Class of 2019, I invite you to be the sunshine of your patients’ life,” he added, referencing the Stevie Wonder song “You are the Sunshine of My Life.”

“Always radiate warmth and compassion and kindness and altruism.”

The ceremony ended with Vice Dean of Medical Education Richard Baker, M.D., leading the class in reciting the Hippocratic Oath.

Photos by David Dalton.