Skip Navigation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Agency for Healthcare Research Quality

Commencement Address, Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies

Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D., Director, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

209th Commencement and Tropaia , Washington, DC, May 17, 2008

Dr. DeGioia, Dean Keltner Jacobs, administrators, faculty, graduates, and parents.

Among the highest honors that can be bestowed upon an individual is an honorary degree. To be recognized in this manner by an institution of the caliber of the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies is an event I will always cherish.

It is an honor that I understand the value of now more than I would have at any other time in my career. I understand the value of what we do as health care professionals. I have seen the differences that we can make.

It won't be long before you'll begin to understand the value of what you do. Right now, you're just beginning your adventure. And it's going to be an adventure. The people and experiences you will encounter will be unpredictable and wonderful, fascinating and frustrating, heart-wrenching and humbling.

Along the way, you will find your calling; or, as Bono said in an infamous graduation speech in 2001, you will find, "the hole in your heart."

And with the changes that are taking place in health care today, you will have more opportunities than anyone before you to be successful, in a much broader range of disciplines.

The system is in the midst of a much needed transformation. We're not getting the kind of quality that we should be for the $2.3 trillion we spend annually for health care in the United States. It's not even close.

According to the latest statistics from the National Healthcare Quality Report, which is published by my Agency, the rate of improvement in health care quality has increased by 2.3 percent. This is down from 3.1 percent in the previous year's report.

At the same time, health care costs have gone up 6.7 percent. Clearly, we're not getting our money's worth, and without a successful system transformation, we're going to get increasingly less for our money.

Don't get me wrong; we have made quantum leaps in health care over the last 100 years. But that is nothing compared to what we are experiencing in the information age, or what will take place over the next 100 years.

Health care is and will continue to be at the forefront of the public's mind, especially as we try to achieve this transformation as a Nation.

We're expecting new and growing challenges with a greater percentage of the population approaching 65.

We're seeing a shift in the way that health care is being delivered. Alternatives for consumers range from traditional hospitals to the new retail ready clinics.

We're also seeing a shift to a more scientific model of health care. Professionals who not that long ago had to rely primarily on their experiences with patients to judge potential outcomes, now have better access to evidence-based information to help them and their patients make better, more informed decisions about their health care options.

Data on outcomes and many additional patient-focused activities is becoming increasingly available through the use of health information technology. If implemented and used properly, the benefits of health IT are virtually unlimited at this stage.

Perhaps the most important shift we're seeing is in the new brand of health care professionals who are joining our ranks. You are graduating at a time when the evolving face of health care requires a great deal of flexibility and comfort with change.

You are better educated. You are more scientifically knowledgeable than your predecessors, and you have unprecedented access to information and tools that weren't even on the drawing board 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago in many instances.

You are the next generation of health care providers, and it is important for you to see yourselves as innovators and leaders who will impact the future of health care for years to come.

Speak up for patient-centered care. Contribute as team members with other health professionals and be a vocal and important part of your teams. Each of us bears a responsibility, in our various fields and from our many perspectives, for ensuring the health outcomes of our country and the world.

Life-long learning. Stay connected. Be flexible. These are the messages of the day.

Also, remember that even though you don't always hear them, your family, friends, and Georgetown University will be cheering you on.

I remember what it was like to sit in the audience on the day of my commencement. I am the oldest of a very large family and I am told that my family made a lot of noise when I received my diploma. I didn't hear them at the time, but trust me when I say that they have continued to be very vocal ever since.

As I thought about what I wanted to say to you today, I reflected on what I would have liked to have heard when I was sitting where you are now. Here are a few of the things that came to mind:

First, for all of the anxiety, uncertainty, and fatigue that you will encounter, the early years of your career are going to be among the most exciting of your life. Relish these years.

Second, technology is a means to an end, so don't let it remove the human element of health care in your quest to improve efficiency. The goal of efficiency should be to give you more time for human contact and to listen. Every patient's story is interesting and will always be one of the most vital sources of information.

Finally, at certain points, the mission of patient care will not always be tangible, dramatic, or exciting. There will also be times when you may not be particularly happy with the patients or the other people around you.

During these times, the key will be for you to never lose sight of the fact that taking care of patients and their families is a privilege-an honor that you have earned through your dedication and hard work.

When you are frustrated, anxious, or uncertain, remind yourself about why you went into health care:

  • You wanted to heal the sick and help the suffering.
  • You wanted to study and understand how the health care system works, and you wanted to find ways to make it work better.
  • Or maybe you wanted to use the power of science to unlock the mystery of disease.

At the end of the day, you will find that all of your reasons will lead you back to people, and the hole in your heart.

To the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies Class of 2008, congratulations on your achievements and best wishes for a wonderful future. I know we will be hearing great things about all of you.

Current as of May 2008

Internet Citation:

Commencement Address, Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies. Speech by Carolyn Clancy. May 2008. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


AHRQAdvancing Excellence in Health Care