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Wayne State Graduation Keynote Focuses on Compassion

Dr. Robert R. Frank tells graduates that patients need compassion as much as treatment

Dr. Robert R. Frank, Wayne State interim vice dean of faculty affairs, delivered a keynote speech to the School of Medicine’s graduating class May 24 at the Fox Theatre, where 317 graduates — the largest graduating class in the school’s history — received degrees in their respective fields. Frank has devoted more than 40 years of work to the university.

Frank has spent his entire career assisting underprivileged communities and advocating diversity in medical schools and American medicine.

“There is no one who has had more impact on Wayne State University’s SOM than Dr. Frank,” said School of Medicine Dean Dr. Valerie Parisi.

Frank came from Boston to Detroit in 1968 and received his M.D. from the SOM in 1973.

While in medical school, he discovered discrepancies between minority and non-minority communities in terms of health and health care. During his sophomore year of medical school, Frank helped found a student-run free clinic in the Jeffries Housing Project, which he ran in association with the College of Nursing, School of Social Work and Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences.

Additionally, Frank has played a large role in local civil rights. During his residency, two Filipino nurses were accused of and arrested for murdering patients at the Allen Park Veterans Administration Hospital. This received national attention and Frank, with help from others around the country, helped get the nurses acquitted of all charges.

The list of Frank’s achievements has stretched far in the last 40 years. Frank has been the SOM’s interim dean, executive vice dean and associate dean for academic and student programs, shaping the medical school curriculum for many years. Recently, students opened a free clinic in honor of his achievements and named it the Robert R. Frank Student Run Free Clinic, which offers non-emergency services to medically uninsured residents in Detroit.

During his keynote, Frank made the students aware that everything they learned will become a part of their daily lives.

“What happens next to all of you ties you in closer to all physicians,” Frank said. “You now get to apply what you’ve learned these past several years to patient care. Now you won’t be the fifth wheel, but you will be fully engaged at all times.”

Frank acknowledged that, at times, the students may feel inadequate while realizing that they are the people others rely on; to illustrate his point, he shared a personal experience.

Frank was assigned to care for a woman with tuberculosis on a service without the best senior residents. The patient had five daughters counting on Frank to save their mother’s life. Eventually the patient died, but despite the circumstances, Frank was praised and thanked for his efforts.

“That was it for me,” he said. “The moment I grew up as a physician: I knew what it felt like to care deeply for a patient and lose despite my best effort. Recognize that you won’t always have all that you need to give to your patients.”

Afterward, Frank asked the students how to consistently do the right thing without losing the way.

He said many people lose their passion for doing what is right because they let things go without confronting them. Frank told graduates that there are always guidelines to follow; patients need compassion, empathy, listening and understanding as much as they need diagnosis and treatment.

He later urged them to become activists within the health care system in order to make the system a success. Frank ended his speech by telling the graduates to develop their knowledge, skills, altruism, and sense of duty.

“The work of all doctors before you is in your blood,” he concluded. “Yours will enter the veins of whosoever comes after you.”

From: The South End

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