It’s a changing world for new doctors and new teachers
On Friday, the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine graduated 62 new physicians. One of them was my son Eric.
The parents were probably seeing, in those black gowns and hoods, a much smaller version of their doctor-to-be, riding tricycles, catching bugs, playing sports, dressing up for Halloween.
We can also assume that these shining stars owed their presence here to the influence of some key people in their lives. In our case it was Miss Wolpert.
After two years in an alternative school, Eric finished second grade without learning to read. His behavior wasn’t the best either, but the worst part was, he believed he was dumb. I knew he wasn’t, but he wasn’t accepting my word. I went to visit the principal of a church school and explained our situation: Eric wasn’t a bad kid, but he needed structure. And he needed to read.
The principal had probably heard this before. Don’t worry, he said. Miss Wolpert has been teaching children to read for 30 years. “She’s never lost one yet.”
Miss Wolpert was as good as her reputation. Warm but stern, she got him back on track. Within months he was reading and bringing home As. He stopped saying he was dumb.
Watching the ceremony, I sent up a big thank you to Miss Wolpert.
I think we have a lot of Miss Wolperts out there, but they’re becoming so encumbered with cookie-cutter remedies, paperwork and standardized tests they can hardly teach.
Last week at a banquet I sat next to a young high school teacher who was clearly frustrated. One of the biggest problems with schools, she said, is that “students have more rights than teachers.” She said a student had yelled at her and used profanity.
“I can kick him out, but he’s right back the next day. If he’s given suspension, I have to write out lesson plans for his work while he’s at home.” There were no other consequences for an unruly kid who insults a teacher and steals class time from other students. This is an old problem, and attempts at solutions get increasingly bizarre as schools turn to cops to do what one “mean” assistant principal used to handle.
Her comment sparked an animated discussion in a table of strangers from around the state, and nobody really had any solutions. We grew up in an era when disrespecting a teacher would have produced a response at home that involved a belt.
It’s a new era for these doctors, too. Dr. Anne Simpson, a faculty member with many titles, referred briefly to evolving medical issues. The book of medical standards has ballooned in the last 10 years. Medical ethics are far more complex.
“It’s an exciting and concerning time for medicine,” she said. “There are new bugs and new drugs. There is medicine in space. There are aging baby boomers. I’m sure you will take gentle, thoughtful care of us.”
I’ve spent a lot of time in my career writing about health care and insurance and had my own adventures in our convoluted health-care system. I know doctors who struggle daily to maintain an independent practice and other doctors who strive to preserve their humanity in the midst of HMO pressures that make it difficult. It takes my breath away that my son, headed for a residency in emergency medicine, will make life and death decisions.
Graduate Micaela Esquivel, delivering the students’ speech, asked her classmates, “Does anyone else feel the weight on your shoulders?”
I can only hope that these young doctors, like the young teacher, can rise above the daily aggravations of the job to deliver healing, relief and knowledge, and light a match in this dark room.
© 2012 New Mexico News Services