“I reminded myself daily that my purpose is greater than my pain, my purpose is greater than my sadness, my purpose is greater than me. I am doing this for my Latino community and those kids from underrepresented backgrounds who have never seen a doctor who looks like them to show them that anything is possible.”
Those words echoed throughout Credit Union 1 Arena as Jordan Cisneros, MD, spoke at RUSH University’s 51st Commencement Ceremony. Cisneros, this year’s student speaker, gave a moving address that reflected on his time at RUSH, the oddity of being in school during the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of what it means to be the next generation of health care leaders.
What rang true throughout his speech was one word: purpose.
‘My purpose is greater than me’
As Cisneros addressed the crowd, he told the story of his father, who passed away in California while Cisneros was still studying at RUSH Medical College.
“I received the call from his doctor that my father had gone into cardiac arrest and despite multiple rounds of CPR and life saving measures, he passed away due to complications from COVID-19,” Cisneros explained. “My father, my hero, was gone. An immense sense of guilt swept over me. For three weeks my father, who loved his family so dearly, suffered in the hospital without any loved ones by his side.”
Cisneros talked about all of the big moments his father had been there for: first steps, graduations, receiving his white coat…but now, when his dad needed him most, he wasn’t able to be there.
“I felt as if I let my father die alone. And though I mourned his death, I did what so many of us in this demanding field are used to doing, I cast my emotions aside and continued to work.”
For two years Cisneros felt as though his father died alone with no support system around him. That all changed while he was on a pediatric infectious disease rotation during medical school. Cisneros was assigned to a team working on a two-year-old boy’s case. The once healthy child’s situation was bleak and there was no apparent cure for the disease that had spread through his body. Cisneros noticed the boy’s mother struggling and felt compelled to comfort her. Being a father himself and having just lost his father, he knew had to say something, anything.
“As I walked over to her, legs trembling, heart pounding, I knelt down to eye level, placed my arm around her and said, ‘I’m here for you, I’m here with you.’ She buried her head into my chest and started to weep,” he told the crowd. “It was a full circle moment for me and I realized something truly profound in that instance.”
What Cisneros realized in that moment was that his father was never truly alone. His father’s medical team was right there the entire time, caring for him and supporting him. It was in this moment that he understood not only his purpose but the purpose of every individual who enters the health care profession.
“In the very near future, if not already, you will be that individual alongside your patients and their family to uplift them through what may be their deepest, darkest and most vulnerable moment in life,” Cisneros explained. “Regardless of your role, every interaction you have with your patients and their loved ones matters.”
“Remember, kindness doesn’t cost a thing, yet it’s the richest gift you can give.”
Cisneros went on to explain that life will hand each and every person trials and tribulations, whether it be professional burnout, the loss of a loved one or other trauma. But it is in those moments health care workers must dig deep and remember their purpose. They must remind themselves that their purpose to treat, care for and support their patients is greater than their pain, sadness or themselves and that they have been given the tools to carry that purpose out.
“As you leave here today, know that RUSH has instilled within you the knowledge, skills and heart to make a difference in the world of health care,” he said. “Embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, and never lose sight of the importance of your work.”
A purpose inspired by community
As Cisneros closed his remarks and exited the stage, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, MSN/MPH, RN, FAAN, took to the podium as the honorary commencement speaker. She touched on Cisneros’ inspiring words and added her own to the theme of “purpose.” The purpose of a responsibility to community, health equity and the investment of creating a more diverse workforce in health care.
“We understand the need to have a diverse health workforce, because we’ve seen the difference it can make in our own families when we have doctors and nurses who speak our language and understand our culture,” said Underwood.
Underwood highlighted how each student from the College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences, Graduate College and RUSH Medical College have been trained to continue RUSH’s long-standing commitment to health equity. That commitment can be traced back to 1847, when David Jones Peck became the first Black man to ever receive a doctor of medicine degree from an American medical school. That school was RUSH.
“I know that our graduates here today are going to carry that history-making legacy as you go forward from today’s ceremony, not only as health care leaders, but as the citizens our democracy will depend on.”
As Underwood closed, she underscored the unique purpose of each graduating student and the importance of stepping into the role of being a leader in their communities.
“Stepping into leadership has a ripple effect: you show others what’s possible, you inspire them to tap into their own strength, she explained. “That’s the power you hold, and the responsibility you carry. I know that you’ll make the most of it.”
Take in the sights and sounds of Cisneros' and Underwood's speeches, and all of the joy and excitement of the students, their families, and the University community:
Prepared for your purpose
As commencement came to an end, students walked across the stage, received their diplomas and hoods and found themselves a few moments away from taking the next step in their health care journey.
While nerves may have been high with the unknown of the future looming before them, they could take solace in Underwood’s words for them.
“You are uniquely prepared for this moment,” she had said. “You are ready to drive transformational change in your communities.”
Every RUSH University student, no matter what college they represented, may have entered the arena as a graduate but each left as a health care professional ready for the responsibility meant for the few that choose a life of service. To be a lifeline for those in need.
“The joy of discovery is not all that you have learned,” Larry J. Goodman, MD, interim president, RUSH University said as he closed the ceremony. “Your family, who many are here in this large arena, online and all over the world, have already taught you the most important part of health care: it is caring.”