FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 10, 2007
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY'S SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's remarks as prepared. Please check against delivery.
"Dean Glickman: Thank you for those very kind words. And to today's graduates, let me say that even though you've been waiting a long time for this day- even longer than those legendary waits for the elevators at Tisch Hospital.
"I first want to take this opportunity to join NYU President John Sexton, Robert Berne, the University's Senior Vice-President for Health, my two friends, Marty Lipton chair of NYU board of trustees, and Ken Langone, chair of the Medical Center board of trustees, and the entire NYU Medical School community in thanking you for your distinguished leadership of this great school.
"Now, to the graduating class of double-oh-seven - First, let me say that the name is Bloomberg… Mike Bloomberg. And then let me congratulate each of you on reaching the day when your test papers will never again be shaken-not stirred-by those construction pile-driver vibrations outside your classrooms; when you will no longer have to perfect the art of looking busy while hanging out in the Bellevue Café; and when those 'two drinks for the price of one' specials at the Hook and Ladder will become hazy-and, I hope-happy memories.
"Also after today, no one in a hospital will ever again 'mistake' you for doctors. You're now the genuine articles; a thought that's probably a little frightening, but also tremendously exhilarating. Because this is at long last the day that you've devoted all those long hours of work and study to reaching. And before we go any further, please join me in saluting some people who have been there for you every step of the way: Your parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Let's give them all a hand; they really deserve it!
"For centuries, medical students have been instructed to 'First, do no harm.' As a standard of professional conduct, that's hard to argue with-although I've always thought that it does set the bar a little low. But actually, it is quite similar to the instruction that I give my new commissioners and senior staff: 'You're the best. Now don't screw it up.'
"A lot or people think that the advice to 'First do no harm' came from the 'Father of Medicine,' Hippocrates. In fact, no one's quite sure who said it first. But Hippocrates did have a lot of important things to say about the ethics of practicing medicine, including this thought that is attributed to him: 'The function of protecting and developing health must rank even above that of restoring it when it is impaired.' Or in other words: The physician has a duty to provide that celebrated ounce of prevention while also administering the all-important pound of cure.
"Unfortunately, our society currently isn't giving that wisdom the kind of attention that it deserves. In fact, today 95% of our medical expenditures are for curative care, and only 5% go to prevention.
"That imbalance helps explain why we do such an inexcusably poor job of controlling silent killers like heart disease and diabetes; and why, even though the U.S. has some of the most widely admired and lavishly funded health care institutions in the world, we also trail 45 other nations in life expectancy.
"Clearly, we must, and can, do better than that. And that's why today, I want to ask you to be something even more than the great physicians you've trained so hard to become. I want to challenge you to be leaders as well as healers. To use both your analytic training and your love of humanity to help us meet the challenge Hippocrates gave us to 'promote and develop public health.'
"Over the past five and a half years, our Administration has devoted itself to that task. In the face of considerable opposition, we pioneered a ban on second-hand smoke in restaurants and bars. Try marching in a neighborhood St. Patrick's Day after doing that; it's a very character-building experience!
"We're now requiring restaurants to begin phasing out the use of the artificial trans-fats that contribute to heart disease and stroke. Because of our education and outreach efforts, record numbers of New Yorkers have stopped smoking; are being screened for colon cancer; are getting free and fast tests to learn their HIV status; and are taking other steps essential to living longer and healthier lives.
"And the result is that today, for the first time since World War Two, the average New Yorker has a greater life expectancy than the average American. So we've made a good beginning. But it's only a beginning. Now we must build on what we've achieved. And for that, we will need your help, as leaders as well as healers.
"We need you, and the entire NYU Medical School community, to be leaders, for example, in ensuring that our city's public hospitals continue to provide the outstanding frontline health care they give to one out of every six New Yorkers.
"Like so many NYU Medical School graduates who have gone before you, you have received superb clinical instruction at one of those great public hospitals: Bellevue. Now we need to work together to ensure that it always remains the outstanding teaching hospital that it was for you.
"Today, our State leaders have, very wisely, begun a systematic reappraisal of our health care priorities. But as part of that process, I'm asking for your help in reminding them to 'First, do no harm'-and especially not to do any inadvertent harm to Bellevue and our other great teaching hospitals.
"I also challenge you to be leaders, as well as healers, in addressing the problems of a health care system that today consumes 16% of our gross domestic product; yet at the same time leaves 16% of our citizens, most of them the so-called 'working poor', without health insurance coverage, private or public. Those are clearly unsustainable trends, and disturbingly, both continue to climb.
"It's just as important for you to become leaders as well as healers on the full range of challenges that confront us as we 'promote and defend the public health.' So we need you to join us in speaking out on issues of environmental justice. Because when children in Harlem, the South Bronx, and other inner city neighborhoods are hospitalized for asthma at four times the national rate, that is a public health crisis that demands your leadership.
"We need your leadership in making such interventions the rule, not the exception, in communities across our city and our nation. Finally, we also need you to join us in taking the lead to stop the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, because this is a public health crisis, as well as a law enforcement challenge.
"In New York City, we've worked very hard to make the safest big city in the nation even safer. And it gives me enormous satisfaction to report that crime in New York is 30% lower than it was six years ago. But even one life lost to violence is one too many. And the grim fact is that in the rest of our nation, violent crime is on the rise.
"Each day, an average of 30 Americans are murdered-and in most cases, the murder weapon is an illegally purchased or possessed firearm. So we as a nation have got to get serious about taking illegal guns off our streets. This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment, or the rights of lawful gun owners. It's about enforcing the law and cracking down on criminals. And to free our nation from the scourge of illegal weapons, doctors can and must play a leading role.
"Now, you may ask yourselves: But I'm only one person. What can I do? Well, let me give you a vivid example of just what one person, a physician like you, can do. I want to take you back to a November night about 18 months ago. That night, Detective Dillon Stewart, a fine young New York City police officer with a tremendously promising career ahead of him, was gunned down during a traffic stop on the streets of Brooklyn.
"He was rushed to the emergency department at Kings County Hospital, where doctors heroically tried to save him. But despite their best efforts, Dillon's massive heart wounds were too severe, and he died on the operating table. A short time later, Dr. Robert Kurtz - the hospital's Co-Director of Trauma Surgery, joined me and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to address reporters. And I'm pleased to say that he has also joined us here tonight.
"I clearly remember Dr. Kurtz as being exhausted that day, still in his scrubs which were stained with blood. First, he talked about his patient. He calmly and professionally explained how his team had tried to save the officer; how they had reopened the young man's chest after the first surgery had failed; how he had then massaged the officer's heart in his own hands. All to no avail.
"His devotion to his patient was palpable - and powerful. And so was his commitment to the truth. At that moment, having seen too many gunshot victims in his ER over the years, he felt compelled to speak out forcefully and publicly - about the awful carnage produced by guns on our streets.
"There's no question, that his candor and passion that morning touched the heart of our city. His words gave an enormous boost to what has now become a national campaign by mayors in every part of our nation who have banded together to stop the spread of illegal guns.
"Dr. Kurtz could have left the advocacy to others. He could have said that wasn't his job. But leadership is part of his job, and part of the job of all doctors. And tonight I want to thank him for speaking out so clearly and forcefully on this vital issue.
"Now, like him, you must take the lead - both to heal, and to be heard. You must lead us to a stronger, safer, healthier world. I have no doubt that you will succeed. Because as graduates of this great medical school - I believe you can be those forceful leaders, as well as skilled healers.
"The possibilities for using your enormous talents in service to others are limitless, whether in nations halfway around the world or here in our own city-where I hope many of you now begin your medical careers.
"Let me ask you to become leaders as well as healers wherever you go. And let me leave you tonight with one more challenge, too: Fill the rest of this evening with happiness and memories that will last you a lifetime. You've earned them.
"Now good luck, and God bless you all."
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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