Commencement speaker shares advice to fuel the fire of advocacy with graduating medical students
During the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Commencement ceremony, speaker Tyree Winters, D.O., told the college’s 238 graduates to be advocates.
Story by Lisa Forster, Photos by Ben Siegel, Rich- Joseph Facun and Dylan Townsend | May 18, 2023
During the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine Commencement ceremony, speaker Tyree Winters, D.O., told the college’s 238 graduates to be advocates. Winters, who graduated from the college in 2007, has spent his career serving others and is widely known for creating “Hip Hop with a Doc,” a nationwide dance exercise program for kids.
“I always knew that I had to use every opportunity to serve others. This has been my ministry and as new osteopathic physicians, I hope that you will hopefully join me in this ministry as well,” said Winters, the categorical pediatric residency program director at Goryeb Children’s Hospital in New Jersey. He also serves as the diversity, equity and inclusion lead physician for the Department of Pediatrics’ Division Chief Committee and as medical director of Overlook Medical Center’s Pediatric Health Start Clinic, which offers care to children in the New York metropolitan area who otherwise would not have access.
Winters told graduates that advocacy looks different for each person, and as a physician, they will have many service opportunities.
“Every action that you take can influence the lives of others especially when you have D.O. behind your name,” said Winters. “People are going to sit up and take note of the things that you say. They will treat you differently compared to your fellow human beings whose voices may be stifled, ignored or even silenced. You will have a choice to make. Will I or won’t I? Use this position to speak for the voiceless, fight for the helpless and love the unlovable.”
He told graduates that as he prepared for his speech, he wondered what could have been said at his graduation 16 years earlier that “would have added more fuel to my own fire in advocacy?” So, he shared with students a list of advice he wished he’d received. He began by telling students that their patients deserve the best of their doctors every day. He said it will be important for the graduates, especially on tough days, to remember why they became doctors and to center themselves by focusing on their purpose. He told them there is no perfect job or institution and to concentrate on changing the things they can and accepting what they cannot change at that moment. He warned them that they will make mistakes.
“Extend yourself grace, the same grace you would extend to somebody else who made a mistake. Extend it to yourself. It’s the hardest thing to do as a physician,” Winters said.
He also encouraged students to “correct them every single time they mispronounce your name. Courageous doctor with that unique and beautiful name, be proud of it. If someone can pronounce Daenerys Targaryen, then, darn it, they can pronounce Dr. Nwaobasi, Dr. Nguyen, Dr. Gutierrez. Teach them over and over again,” Winters said.
He pointed out the same goes for every time someone mistakenly assumes they have an M.D. instead of a D.O. degree.
“Correct them,” he said. “You worked too long and too hard for this degree to be ashamed of your D.O. degree. Never be ashamed of it. I wear it like a badge of honor.”
Winters brought up imposter syndrome, a fairly common feeling for many medical students who may question their abilities and think they aren’t good enough.
“You count yourself out before someone else even gets the chance to. It’s got to come to an end,” he said. “You have to know that you have so much more to offer. There is someone who needs your voice to be an advocate for them.”
Additional tips from Winters included:
- Ask for help; it’s a sign of strength.
- Laugh daily; it’s good for your soul, mind and spirit.
- Be thankful for the little things; it will empower you to change things for the better.
- Invest in your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
- Remain humble.
- Remember the roots of your medical training.
Winters saved what he said was his most important advice for last. Reflecting on the sacrifices his late mother made for him while he was in medical school and the support of his parents, he urged the graduates to call their parents and loved ones and tell them they loved them and appreciate what has been done for them.
“I hope that you take these words to heart. Remember that you have received world class training, and you have everything you need to become a successful osteopathic physician. I pray you will continue to change the world and not let the cares of the world change you. Remember you are an advocate,” Winters said in closing.
Heritage College Executive Dean Ken Johnson, D.O., echoed that sentiment saying, “It is you, the Class of 2023, who will lead the transformation of patient care. It is you, the Class of 2023, who will carry forward the rich tradition of our college and our profession. Today, we celebrate you: your grit, your determination, your perseverance and your achievement.”
Like the class before it, the COVID-19 pandemic overlapped with the Class of 2023’s medical training. Kristina Kazimir, Class of 2023 Student Government Association president on the Dublin campus, told graduates that despite the difficult times, they supported each other and celebrated each other’s successes at every milestone in medical school.
“Together, we’ve made bonds of friendship and community that helped us flourish and grow in ways we never expected. And we will all be better doctors, and people for it. Class of 2023 continue to find your people. Do not settle for anything less than what you deserve to become the best possible version of yourself. Go where you feel appreciated, valued and know you always have your OUHCOM family to lean back on,” said Kazimir.