Friday’s WVSOM ceremony marks first pandemic-era class
LEWISBURG, W.Va. – When students in this year’s graduating class at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) began their medical education in summer 2019, none of them could have predicted that just a few months after their first labs and lectures, a global pandemic would alter their studies and reshape the practice of health care.
Four years later, 177 of those students crossed the stage to accept their diplomas, having weathered months of isolation from their classmates, modifications to the way their education was delivered and changes to medical priorities. During the school’s 46th annual Commencement Ceremony on May 5, they gathered with families and friends to celebrate their transition into resident physicians, where they will train in their specialty of choice for at least three years.
Government officials attending the ceremony recognizing new graduates of West Virginia’s largest medical school included West Virginia State Delegate Mike Honaker, West Virginia State Sen. Jack Woodrum, Lewisburg Mayor Beverly White and Lewisburg City Manager Misty Hill.
Leah Smith, president of the Class of 2023, addressed her fellow graduates in the ceremony, which was livestreamed from the medical school’s campus in Lewisburg. She spoke of the difficulties she and her peers faced during their years in medical school, but said those events have given them a sense of perseverance that will help them succeed in the next stages of their careers.
“Our time here has been extremely different from those before us, yet we’ve continued to learn efficiently at each stage of our training. Not only did the pandemic change our process to become physicians, it has affected the way we will practice medicine throughout the course of our careers,” Smith said. “We’ve only finished a small part of our journey, but we should be proud of how far we’ve come. Every lecture, anatomy lab, exam, clinical rotation and long night of studying has led us to this moment.”
Robert Foster, D.O., FACOFP, WVSOM’s assistant dean for osteopathic medical education and a long-beloved campus figure, was the event’s keynote speaker. In his last Commencement Ceremony before retiring after more than four decades of service to the school, Foster delivered a speech in which he urged graduates to “embrace [their] journeys,” trading his iconic cowboy hat for a black Amish hat adorned with a green band representing medicine.
“This is a profession that thrives on the journeys of humankind,” Foster told those in attendance. “Going to WVSOM and graduating means that you are on a journey, and you have an opportunity to see how it’s working for you on a daily basis and how to apply it medically. The guide that you have in your journey is your passion. When things don’t happen the way you planned them, you’re being helped in finding your passion, your purpose on this planet. Once you understand that, and you’ve embraced your journey, you’re going to have all the help you need with your patients, who are on journeys of their own.”
Foster recalled how his own path to a lifetime in osteopathic medicine took him from his native Arizona to his adopted state of West Virginia. He also spoke of Andrew Taylor Still, D.O., M.D., the founder of the osteopathic profession, who pioneered a health care philosophy centered on the person as a unit of mind, body and spirit. Foster likened Still’s approach to the idea of “patient-centered medicine” that has become increasingly popular in recent decades.
“Every physician I know — and most folks in other professions — have some sense of the ‘mind, body, spirit’ nature of humanity. The difference is that [osteopathic physicians] really embrace it. It’s a piece that we take close to heart,” Foster said.
The Class of 2023 achieved a 100 percent residency placement rate, with all 177 graduates being selected for programs in which they’ll receive postgraduate training. Sixty percent of this year’s graduates are entering primary care specialties.
In an introductory speech, James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s president, pointed out the class’ perfect residency placement rate and said he was proud of its members’ achievements.
“Completing medical school is an even bigger accomplishment in light of the many challenges you have faced, both individually and as a class during the past four years. You have truly distinguished yourself in so many ways, not the least of which is your 100 percent residency placement,” Nemitz said. “We are here to honor and celebrate your incredible accomplishments and to acknowledge you as the newest members of the osteopathic medical profession. I hope you’re soaking up the glory of your achievements, which you have very much earned.”
After receiving their diplomas, graduates recited the osteopathic oath, which acknowledges their transition from student to physician.