On my first day of medical school in 1972, the assembled first year class of the Independent Study Program (ISP) sat on the lush lawn beside Meiling Hall, the sparkling new education building. We received information, studying and organizing advice, and class schedules from six or seven faculty members that were the stalwarts of the ISP preclinical teaching efforts at Ohio State.
Ed Hiatt was a Ph.D. physiologist recently retired from the Air Force, where he did research on the physiology of acceleration before his move to the College of Medicine. I remember almost every word he uttered that morning. I don't even remember the names of the other speakers.
He stared soberly out at us, his gaze passing thoughtfully, it seemed, from face to face. After about one minute, he smiled broadly and said, "Ladies and Gentleman, this will take but a moment of your time. I welcome you to The Ohio State University College of Medicine and, ultimately, to the real world of medicine.
You have worked hard to get here. I only wish we in the ISP and beyond could meet all of your high expectations. As it turns out, medicine exists within the often messy soup that is reality, as you shall see later in your doctor-lives.
You are at some point in your futures going to be exposed to surprising---unethical and nasty---behaviors that I hope will shock you. You will, down the road, also be presented with abundant opportunities. Opportunities to take shortcuts. Opportunities to benefit at the expense of those you are here to serve. Opportunities to play free and easy with the truth. Opportunities to engage in business practices you wouldn't want your mothers to know about.
And yet, this is all as simple as can be." He smiled broadly again at our young faces: "You will, Ladies and Gentlemen, always know what you should do. You will always know the right thing to do. You will always know the ethical thing do do. Yes, you will.
You see, that's the easy part, knowing what you ought to do. What is hard, it turns out, is actually doing that right thing that you know you should.
I encourage you to slow down, dig deep, and do the right things. We will all be better for it, not leastwise you yourselves. Have a good day and a good career."
With that he sat down. I knew somehow that we had just received some real wisdom and I was careful to place it in a part of my memory where it would be readily available. To be sure, the seeds Dr. Hiatt tossed in our direction generally fell that day on soil well prepared by our families. And yet.
And yet, he provided an insight that came back to me frequently throughout my career when those situations he told us about arose. And I knew what to do and was able to do it because Dr. Hiatt cared enough to talk to us about something bigger and more enduring than syllabi, schedules, and testing.
My OSU COM experience was punctuated frequently by the actions and examples of outstanding educators and clinicians who were also exemplary men and women.
I didn't know until many years down the road the full value of the gift Dr. Hiatt freely gave us one sunny summer day. By then it was too late to thank him in person. Perhaps he wouldn't mind terribly my thanking him now.
Thomas J. Poulton, MD, FAAP, FACP, FCCM