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When residency starts before medical school ends

At long last, the day of graduation -- not only from medical school but from a lifetime of schooling -- is within reach. In less than a month, my classmates and I will start the day as students and end the day with two letters following our name, welcoming us into the medical profession. We’ll celebrate with our families, who supported us in this journey; with our friends, who stood by us even when we prioritized studying over socializing; and, of course, with each other. We’ll take too many photos, many of which will be selfies. And we’ll wonder at how quickly med school has gone by.

We’ll do all of these things, that is, if we’re able to make it to graduation at all.

While many U.S. medical schools hold their graduation ceremonies in May (well before the start of any residency program), a number of medical schools -- including Stanford, Dartmouth, UCLA, UC Irvine, among others -- hold their ceremonies in June, sometimes just a day or two before the start of residency orientations. For students who are moving to another state for residency, this often forces them to fly back solely for graduation -- or to miss graduation altogether.

This year, Stanford’s medical school diploma ceremony takes place on Saturday, June 17, with the school-wide commencement taking place the day after. My residency program orientation starts on June 12, so I’ll be missing part of orientation in order to fly back and receive my degree in person. But I’m lucky -- at least I can make it.

One of my other classmates is unable to attend graduation because her residency program won't allow her to miss any part of her orientation. Another of my classmates has her first day of work before June 17, so not only will she be unable to attend graduation but she'll also be starting her patient care duties without officially receiving her MD degree.

On behalf of medical students across the country who are affected by this logistical nightmare, I’d like to advocate for earlier medical school graduation dates that are purposefully selected so as not to conflict with residency orientation start dates.

For schools that are on the quarter system, this can be understandably difficult, since med school diploma ceremonies are often held in conjunction with school-wide convocations. One solution could be to follow in University of Chicago's footsteps and hold the med school ceremony earlier and separate from the school-wide convocation. This allows students to at least receive their MD diploma in person, even if their residencies prevent them from attending the university ceremony.

The bottom line is that after working so hard for so many years at great costs (both financial and otherwise), medical students deserve the opportunity to attend their graduations and share this special day with loved ones -- without having to miss out on their residency experiences to do so.

Stanford Medicine Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.

Hamsika Chandrasekar is a fourth-year student at Stanford’s medical school. She has an interest in medical education and pediatrics.

Photo by Pixabay

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