U.S. Surgeon General offers keynote at MUSC graduation

MUSC President David Cole, M.D. (left) greets Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy, M.D., following the United States Surgeon General’s address to graduates at the Medical University of South Carolina’s 186th commencement on Friday.

The brand-new U.S. Surgeon General addressed more than 600 Medical University of South Carolina graduates on campus Friday morning during their commencement ceremony, charging them to fix the health care system and fight for a cause that they deeply believe in.

“When you’re working toward a vision that’s firmly grounded in your values, when you are truly passionate about what you do, you will be capable of astounding creativity with massive impact,” Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy said. “Staying true to your vision and your values is how you can change the world.”

Murthy, 37, was confirmed as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General by the United States Senate in December. His parents, Indian immigrants, operated a medical clinic in Miami.

“Our story, my family’s story, was a very unlikely one. My family was never supposed to have left our ancestral village in India. My father is the son of a farmer in rural India and he was supposed to be a farmer, as was I,” Murthy said during his commencement speech. “From my parents, I learned that being a healer isn’t just about diagnoses and treatments. It’s also about building relationships based on trust. It’s about meeting people where they are.”

Murthy graduated from Harvard University and earned medical and business degrees from Yale University. He established a nonprofit group called VISIONS with his sister to educate children in India and the United States about HIV/AIDS. He also co-founded Swasthya, a project that trains women in rural India to work as health care providers.

MUSC President Dr. David Cole, who introduced Murthy before he spoke, said, “Becoming America’s next doctor seemed like the logical next step.”

More than 600 MUSC students received degrees at the ceremony, including 160 from the College of Medicine, 138 from the College of Nursing, 74 from the College of Dental Medicine, 80 from the College of Pharmacy and 154 from the College of Health Professions. MUSC Provost Mark Sothmann told the Board of Trustees on Thursday that this was the university’s largest graduating class ever.

“You enter the profession at a time of great challenge,” Murthy told the graduating class.

Diabetes, cancer and heart disease are on the rise. Heroin and prescription drug abuse are “ravaging” small towns, he said.

“But just as concerning ... being poor, which affects one in five children, is too great a factor in determining who is healthy and who is not,” Murthy said. He called health equity a civil rights issue.

“These realities and these inequalities hurt all of us. They threaten our economy, our education system, the productivity of our workers and even our national security,” he said. “Our country needs you to help us overcome one of the biggest challenges of all — that of moving from a culture of treatment to one of prevention in every community across America.”

Murthy received an honorary degree from the College of Medicine after his commencement address.

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