Author + information
- William W Parmley, MD, MACC*
- ↵*Correspondence: William W. Parmley, MD, MACC, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 415 Judah St, San Francisco, California, USA 94122
In June my wife and I attended my 36th reunion of graduation from Johns Hopkins Medical School. Our class dinner was held in a beautiful location on a perfect-weather evening on the banks of Chesapeake Bay. It was indeed a time for making and sharing memories. It was a happy time as we enthusiastically greeted each other as long-lost friends. It was a sad time as we shared a quiet moment of silence for the few classmates who had died. It was a nostalgic time as we remembered shared experiences—some happy, some sad, and many quirky. It was occasionally a heated time as we debated the problems of health care delivery. It was a reflective time as we each had a chance to address the group on what had happened in our professional lives. Some had already retired—many because “the fun had gone out of it”; reimbursement was down and paperwork had buried us. It was a get-acquainted time, since some had brought a grown child, a second or thirdwife, or a friend. It was a time of financial commitment to our medical school as a payback for launching our careers. Most of all, it was a wonderful experience—a never-to-be-forgotten brief linkage in time and space of our very souls.
Since thoughts of that reunion have lingered with me long beyond their allotted time, I’ve tried to capture on paper some of those feelings we shared:
At the beginning of medical school we all feared (some were terrified) that we might not make it through. The experience was a refiner’s fire that welded us together as a class. We shared notes, we studied together, and we struggled through exams together. Somehow we learned that we were all in it together and that we could all make it. We became one.
Since we graduated at a time when there were few women in medical school, the experience of being spouse to a med student belonged almost exclusively to the wives. They had enjoyed an intense time of sharing and bonding. To see how the wives greeted each other, and hugged and laughed and cried, you would have thought that it was their reunion, and we were the tag-along spouses. In a major way that was true. Our marriages were an inseparable part of our medical school experience. The few women in our class had done wonderfully well in their careers and reminded us why current medical school classes are equally divided among men and women.
In a similar way we had all come to love the practice of medicine. It had become our lives, our raison d’etre, and it had absorbed us. Despite the diversity of specialties and the incredibly different course of our careers, we all revered our “beloved profession.” We recognized that society still holds physicians in higher regard than many professions, and we were honored to have the opportunity to meet those expectations. There was a fierce streak of independence in our class; we were as far from unionization as we could possibly be, and we sensed (and knew) that we had lived and worked in the “best of times” in medicine.
By and large we were a family-centered group. We talked of our children and showed snapshots of our grandchildren. We had a keen awareness of passing the torch to the next generation. Our future aspirations were frequently linked to our families and their well-being. There was no discussion of accumulated wealth, fancy cars, second homes, or academic or practice achievements. It was enough to be together again and to talk of families, golf, and politics.
Although several class members had retired, it was clear that we remained a hard-working group. We had trained during a time when excessively long hours were the norm. Taking call on nights and weekends was still common. In the current health care environment we were all “working harder and making less.” My classmates were amused at the ballot proposal of one of our fourth-year medical students that would reduce working hours to the point that half the residents would work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the other half would cover Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. By contrast, our class knew the meaning of a work ethic.
Amidst all of the above were other almost intangible (and poignant) feelings: deep loyalty to our medical school, remembrances of classmates who were deceased, remembering the beginnings of a lifetime journey, memories of faculty members who influenced us so profoundly, humorous anecdotes that became funnier with the retelling, and the realization that we had all done it together.
Even now, memories of that reunion have a haunting quality that will remain with me forever. I’m sure we forgot many of the hard times and mostly remembered the good times. Nevertheless, the word “reunion” will always remain in my mind as a beautiful and fulfilling evening beside the Chesapeake Bay. The reunion was a window on life as it had been and as it is now. We were, by and large, an idealistic class, and the years since graduation have only slightly tarnished those aspirations. But, of course, none of us would ever want to go back and do it all over. Wherever the health care system takes us in the future, it can never erase our memories of “the best of times.”
- American College of Cardiology