College of Medicine Honors 177 in Virtual Convocation

By Linda Satter

Though each new doctor was draped with a doctoral hood and took the Hippocratic oath in front of the entire group, the ceremony, like so many things over the last year, was strictly virtual. Hugs were shared only with family members and friends who placed the green-trimmed hoods around the graduates’ necks in front of cameras, from locations ranging from Little Rock to Zimbabwe.

The green represented the College of Medicine, while a cardinal red band represented the University of Arkansas.

Although it was the second virtual ceremony in the 142-year history of the College of Medicine, due to the pandemic that began weeks before the 2020 class graduated, the 2021 class was the first to undergo their final year of medical school in a mostly virtual environment.

It was a challenge, but “even pre-pandemic, it wasn’t an easy road, getting where you are,” said Stephanie Gardner, Pharm.D., Ed.D., UAMS provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“You made it,” she said, adding, “Life is long, and what is important isn’t how you start a journey, but the path you take as you move forward.”

Gardner, who graduated from pharmacy school more than 30 years ago, said she didn’t plan to go from being a pharmacist to an educator to a dean to an administrator, but, “like mine, your path will likely be unpredictable at times. Just have faith in yourself and don’t be afraid. Keep moving forward.”

She also cautioned the budding physicians, “Don’t lose sight of the motivation that got you to UAMS in the first place.”

Addressing the graduates virtually from a podium in the Fred W. Smith Auditorium where she and other academic leaders gathered six feet apart in formal robes, Gardner reminded them, “Health care isn’t just a job. It’s a lifetime commitment with great challenges and even greater rewards.”

The virtual ceremony was led by James Graham, M.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Medicine.

Despite restrictions resulting from the pandemic, he told them, “We gather tonight with the same sense of pride in the accomplishments of our students, the same sense of celebration and the same sense of hope for the future.”

Christopher Westfall, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine, addressed his last class of new doctors before he retires Aug. 1 after 24 years at UAMS.

“You are entering the most respected, trusted and rewarding of all professions,” said the professor of ophthalmology.

To bring home the point, he recalled a harrowing experience two years ago when he suddenly found himself in the role of a family member of a patient, totally reliant on doctors he didn’t know.

Westfall said he and other family members were gathered out of state for the birth of his daughter’s first child, his first grandchild. A thunderstorm had knocked out the electricity, and her labor lasted 42 hours. It became necessary to transfer her to a major university medical center, where “no one knew that I was dean or even a doctor. I was just Dad.”

He waited anxiously with the others, and then, “In walked the doctor, and I was relieved. Even though she was a young resident-in-training, I was relieved because she was a doctor.”

“We put a lot of faith in doctors,” he told the group that in July will begin their residencies in various specialties at institutions across the country, including UAMS.

“I trusted her knowledge, and I trusted that she knew what she was doing, and that if she reached the limit of that knowledge, which she did, she would know to call in a more senior attending physician, which she did, just as I trust you to do in six short weeks when you become a resident.”

Westfall continued: “I trusted her dedication. I trusted that she would put the needs of my daughter above her own, that even if she was tired and hungry or had an important engagement, she would stay. I trusted her to care about my little girl, and my little girl’s unborn baby. And I trusted her to care about the responsibilities that come with the privilege of being called doctor.”

Although the tense situation had a happy ending, he said, noting that his grandson will be 2 years old next month, he reminded the graduates that not all medical stories end that way, which is why there is more to being a doctor than understanding medicine.

“When medical science has given all that it has to give, when you have done all that you know to do, then all that is left is for you to care, and sometimes that is all that your patients fervently hope for – that you will care about them,” he said.

“Knowledge, dedication and care. That, I believe, is why ours is the most trusted profession,” Westfall said.

He reminded the graduates, “We as physicians fill a major role in most of our patients’ life stories. As you enter this most rewarding and trusted profession, I ask that you periodically reflect on whether you are fulfilling your part of the bargain.”

Lindsey Sward, M.D., the student-selected keynote speaker, encourages budding doctors to be humble.

Lindsey Sward, M.D., the student-selected keynote speaker, encourages budding doctors to be humble.


Lindsey Sward, M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, was selected by the students to give the keynote speech. She discussed a personal lesson learned over the last year about the importance of giving grace, showing humility and treasuring relationships.

Sward said that although she was in denial at first, she finally had to admit last summer that she needed help for major depression.

During her struggle, she said, “So many people gave me so much grace. Giving grace to each other is so important. We all makes mistakes, and we all hit rough patches, but I’m not my mistakes, and I’m not my worst days, and neither is anyone else you come in contact with.”

“I’m trying every day to extend the same grace to myself that I extend to others,” she said. “Give yourself a break. We’re all human beings, after all.”

As they enter a demanding profession, Sward told the budding doctors that they will fare much better if they also remember to show weakness and vulnerability sometimes.

“It’s humbling not to be able to do it all,” she said. “I learned this year that I’m not Superwoman.” She said she also learned to be less competitive and allow others to shine.

“We all have our strengths,” Sward said. “As health care workers, we are all stronger when we humbly do our part and allow others to do theirs.”

Remember, she said, “People trust us with their lives. Let us not be so prideful that we forget the gravity of that.”

Sward said she was happy to return to UAMS six years ago after a stint in private practice, which she called “a lonely endeavor for me.” Now, she said, “I love my job, and that’s mostly because of the relationships I get to build and nurture each day. Don’t forget to treasure those relationships.”