Dr. Tiffny Massey’s speech, given on April 30, 2011 at the 2011 Commencement Ceremony:
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today and share a few words of encouragement with you. I was sitting exactly where you are right now, only one year ago, so I know the excitement and nervousness that comes when finally graduating from medical school. My road to medical school began as I worked as an occupational therapist at a large rehab hospital. I knew after many years that I enjoyed the difference that I was making in my patients’ lives, but I still wanted something bigger. I prioritized my two goals. Number one was to become a mother. Number two was to become a doctor. My first goal did not come as easily as planned. My husband and I tried for over eight years to get pregnant with no success. We exhausted specialists and multiple procedures with no luck. I came to the realization that this goal was not meant to be. My distraction from this emotional rollercoaster became my pursuit towards medicine. I realized, at age 30, that if I ever wanted to become a doctor, now was the time. I continued to work full-time as a therapist, take prerequisite courses and study for the MCAT like so many of you probably had to do as well. I mailed out my applications and anxiously awaited to hear a response… one by one they came… all rejections. It was shocking for me to see yet another dream of mine slipping away.
My husband and I took a cruise shortly after this to clear our heads and relax to the Cayman Islands. We were on a tour bus when we passed St. Matthew’s University. I started tossing the idea around of going to a Caribbean medical school. Could I move that far away from my family? Would I get in? Would I be able to get a residency in the U.S.? I got back home and filled out my application, deciding not to give up on my dreams. Shortly after that, I got, what we all have anxiously awaited before – my first acceptance letter. I must stop right now and thank those at St. Matthew’s that believed in me and gave me an opportunity to fulfill my dreams. I knew from this point on, my life was about to begin. Fast forward a few semesters to life in Grand Cayman… the beautiful beaches, the laid back atmosphere, will never be forgotten. Medical school was intense but at the same time so amazing to truly learn about the human body. I was about to finish my fourth semester and head to Miami for a fifth semester Kaplan course when I got some unexpected news. My white shirt and khaki pants were fitting snuggly. I assumed it was from too many trips to Coconut Joes and Calico Jacks, but to my amazement, I was pregnant! After everything that we had gone through before that never worked, I had managed to get pregnant on my own. My husband and I were thrilled, shocked and of course terrified all at the same time.
Fast forward again through USMLE steps one and two, and clinicals all over the United States – I felt that I lived out of a suitcase during that time. Trying to figure out what was blue or green drove me crazy as I am sure it did you all too! I was working long hours and studying and hurrying home to my baby girl, when I found out that I had another baby on the way. More shock, more excitement, more boards, and more clinicals – and the search for residency began. We go through so much to accomplish this goal to become a physician. Before I knew it, I was sitting where you are today. My parents were the crazy ones taking 10,000 pictures. My two children were the screaming babies that had to be taken out. My husband was the man that stood smiling at me as I walked across the stage because he was so proud. Enjoy this time. You have all accomplished so much, and your family is so proud of you for this.
I started residency last year in Family Medicine at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. It has been a fast-paced, scary, yet exciting time where I have learned so much more than I ever thought imaginable. I felt so prepared having received the education that I did from St. Matthew’s. I wanted to share some advice with you today as new graduates that will help you succeed as you start your careers. I call this my Top 10 List to Success as a New Physician:
- Learn To Develop Rapport With Your Patients: Make them part of your treatment plan. Encourage them to open up to you. You will need strong communication skills to make it as a physician, but your warmth and personality will make patients appreciate you.
- Take Opportunities That Are Presented To You: Get as much clinical experience and procedures as possible. Stay late to deliver the baby of the mother you have labored with all day. Ask if you can perform the lumbar puncture before the ER physician does it for you. You never know when these experiences will be useful again in your life. I was obsessed with running codes on patients as a medical student but had the unfortunate opportunity of running a full code on my own mother after she had had a bilateral mastectomy following breast cancer. It was the worst day of my life. I knew though, that I was the most prepared person in the room that day. I know my clinical experience helped save her life.
- Be An Active Leader: This advice came from my program director to share with you all today. He recommended reading 5-10 minutes each night specifically on a topic that you saw in a patient that day. Medicine is always evolving, and we as physicians must stay informed of the new treatments, studies and procedures to provide the best care for our patients.
- Find A Hobby That You Can Enjoy Outside Of Medicine: I personally took up tennis about a year ago. This gives me an outlet after a busy day and helps me relieve stress. Try not to let this path consume you. Find something that makes you happy when you have down time.
- Be Kind And Appreciate Those Around You: Realize that medicine involves a team approach. We need the help of nurses, RT, scrub techs, etc. all to help us take care of our patient. Put aside your arrogant attitudes because more of these people will know more than us in the beginning. I cannot tell you how many times a nurse has helped me with a dose of medication or went behind me to help me determine a cervical exam in a pregnant patient. Treat everyone with respect and it will carry you far in your career.
- Try To Find One Area Of Your Career That You Can Excel At: Medicine is huge. We can never learn every drug, every procedure, every vaccine, every diagnosis, every surgery… it is just too much. Pick one area that you can excel at and become a resource to others; I have this goal now for myself and am trying to determine what my area of expertise should be.
- Acknowledge That People Look Up To You: This one was difficult for me. The minute that I officially graduated suddenly I got phone calls from people that I barely knew asking for medical advice. I was the patent at kids at birthday parties that was asked to come look at some disgusting rash or check and see if Little Bill had broken his arm after falling out of the jump house. The worst was my own family. My grandmother wanted me to start treating her foot fungus! This all started to drive me over the top until I realized that this comes with the territory. People respect your opinion more now. They value what you have to say. Try to acknowledge this and be there for them.
- Stay Away From Drama: This may seem straight forward, but I see it happen every day. Don’t get caught up in petty things like work schedules, office gossip and back-stabbing coworkers. Realize that you are building a professional career on day one. Fulfill your residency contractual agreement. Be professional. Dress professional. Act professional. We have been taught this from day one in medical school, but I wanted to pound it into your heads one more time.
- Realize That You Are Going To Make Mistakes: Just last week, I almost ruptured membranes on a breeched baby all because I hadn’t confirmed placement of the head. Realize that programs are here to train you, they expect you to fail at time. Try not to repeat these mistakes and most importantly, learn from them.
- Always Put Your Family First: I have learned that friends may come and go, but you will always have the support of your family. You are going to be extremely busy over the next three to five years. Take the time to send your loved ones a simple text, a quick email or phone call to let them know how you are doing. I found out on my first week of residency that my mother’s cancer had metastasized to her brain. I immediately knew that I had to go be with her. She has been one of my biggest supporters throughout this entire process. I was so thankful that at that point I chose her over my career. Family will be there for each other when no one else will. You could not have made it here today without your family’s support. This is as much their graduation, as it is yours. Remember to always make them a priority in your life.
I hope that these tips help many of you as you begin this next phase in your career. I challenge many of you to think backwards. Jump to the end of your medical career in your imagination. What type of physician do you want to be remembered as by your family, coworkers and patients? How would these people describe you? Were you dedicated, balanced, compassionate and a team player? Start from the very beginning to define your life as a physician. I hope these tips help you succeed in your endeavors. Again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today. Congratulations on your graduation! Go make us all proud!