Becoming a blessing ...

“Becoming a blessing in someone’s life and touching eternity.”

 May 11, 2013

Nicholas G. Popovich, PH.D., R.PH.

Good afternoon everyone.  I would like to thank President Pederson,  Dean Reddy and the faculty of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College Of Pharmacy for the honor to be your speaker for this momentous occasion.

Dean Reddy, the faculty, the 2013 graduates, loved ones and friends, in “My grandfather’s blessings,” Rachel Naomi Remen, an oncologist, a psychologist, and master storyteller uses numerous stories and anecdotes to remind us of our kindness and the joy of being alive.

One of her themes is a challenge to be a blessing to our family, friends, and others whose lives we interact with on a daily basis.  By doing so, I believe each one of us can touch eternity.  For example, Henry Adams wrote: “Teachers touch eternity, they never know where their inspiration ends.”   And indeed, a little of your faculty is in each one of you.  During your education, they challenged you to think, and “maybe it hurt.”  But one day, I trust you will reflect back on that challenge and be grateful for those times and lessons that were taught.  Indeed, they were a blessing to your education and development.

A blessing is defined as “a thing conducive to happiness,” and to confer happiness upon someone or something.

For example, Dr. Remen relates a story of her early medical training at Bellevue Hospital in NYC. As a first year medical student, she was in charge of drawing blood samples from patients on one of the men’s general medicine wards.  She dreaded the morning task as her skills were few and far between often with her having to try several times to draw blood from a patient before being successful.  As she writes, “it was painful for them and agonizing for her.”  Then, one day during her second week, she sensed someone close to her. She turned and saw “one of the regulars” standing there, a big rough looking man in blue Bellevue pajamas with tattoos covering both his arms.  Without a word, he reached out and picked up one of Dr. Remen’s unused syringes and proceeded to demonstrate to her in a few moments how to place a tourniquet properly and draw the blood. Then, he advised her how to avoid collapsed veins.  Being embarrassed and in disarray, Dr. Remen went to her next patient.  “Doesn’t anybody teach you kids how to do this?” he asked.  Unable to respond, he shared with her how to keep the hole of the needle up and how the vein won’t roll away.  So, “larry” had been of service to Dr. Remen and came with her every morning and encouraged her with “a quick learn, kid.  Lookin’ good.”  This meant so much to Dr. Remen as praise is very hard to come by in medical training.

The following year, Dr. Remen returned to Bellevue for three more months and now was assigned to the ER, one of the most famous in the world.  Now she felt like a real doctor, and she was there the night that “Larry” was brought in dead over a drug deal gone bad.  It shocked her as she thought he had been an army medic.  It had never occurred to her how he really learned to be so adept with a needle.  And yet, through his service, his blessing lives forever, as Larry’s secrets extend through Dr. Remen who has now taught thousands of other physicians this skill and Larry has touched eternity.   And, i suppose, we can say the same for pharmacists who truly use their education and skills for the betterment of patient care.  They never know where their influence stops.

Your success at today’s graduation ceremony is your reward and an achievement that is well-deserved and earned.  But the real success for you is not today nor at the time of your licensure conferral.  It will only come when you are able to put forth your knowledge and skills in such a way to benefit people.  This is true of all professions, to use the wealth of attained knowledge and skills properly and unselfishly.

You must keep in mind that your education at the Texas A&M Health Science Center only lays the groundwork for the future.  To be successful, any true professional recognizes a sense of purpose, a mission.  The professional recognizes that he or she has a unique opportunity to develop and deliver services essential upon which the community will depend.  In our profession of pharmacy it must result in our devotion and commitment to the patient and the acquisition of knowledge, skill and judgments that will ensure the optimal and safe use of medications and diagnostic products and kits necessary to treat or prevent illness.  Truly, it is the delivery of pharmacy care.  It is also nested in citizenship and service to the community

I believe, however, there is more to give than just our knowledge and skills.  Each patient who comes to us gives us the opportunity to be a servant leader and a blessing in their lives.  A servant leader is the person who wants to serve, to serve first.  And, I firmly believe this was the reason you enrolled in pharmacy school a while back.

In my faith, the prayer of St. Francis reads, in part, it is in giving that we receive, and if you give of yourself and become a blessing in your patients’ lives you will receive so much.  All it takes is a warm smile, a gentle “hello,” an empathetic glance and a willingness to listen even for the 35th time during the day.  By doing so, you will demonstrate the very important characteristic of compassion.   Actually, there are 49 character traits that help to portray a professional and while time does not allow me to mention all of them i would like to focus on four beginning with compassion.

Compassion is defined as doing whatever is necessary to heal the hurts of others.   Oftentimes patients come to the pharmacy confused and irritated.  Listening, truly listening, without judging, and giving of one’s resources to help them is so important.  Perhaps, it is an intervention for a patient with a doctor that helps you attain a solution for the patient.  Each of us desires compassion in our times of need, and remember, there is always someone worse off than we.  So reflect a compassionate demeanor to those who you will serve and care for.  Indeed, if your faculty provided you with “educational care” that nurtured your learning, you will in turn be able to deliver “pharmacy care.”  For we know, role modeling shapes who we are, as your parents did during your early life, so, too, did your faculty do this for you during your years in pharmacy school.

A second characteristic which is so important is benevolence.  That is, giving to others’ needs, being selfless without having personal reward as your motive, and giving freely without expecting anything in return.  There is a famous quote that goes, “there is no limit to what a man/woman can do if he/she does not worry who gets the credit.”  Those of us who are a little bit older, know this to be true and understand credit does come back in many varied ways that are assuring and rewarding.  There is no need “to blow the trumpet,” simply, do it!!

Another characteristic that allows us to be a blessing is humility and acknowledging that no one does it alone.  There is always someone in each of our lives, a parent, a sibling, a relative, a spouse, and/or a friend who guided, nurtured, cajoled, encouraged, and inspired us to do our best.  When you see them next, perhaps right after this ceremony, thank them for their devotion to you and for being a blessing in your life.   And, now it is your turn to be a blessing to those whom you will guide and encourage.  God’s gift to you was those whom he surrounded you with and your talent.  Your gift back to god and those whom he surrounded you with will be what you do with that talent.   The famous, late journalist and humorist, erma bombeck wrote, “when i stand before god on judgment day, i want to be able to say, i used every bit of talent you gave me.”

Another characteristic that lends itself to being a blessing is justice and taking responsibility to do what is right and true.   Be a blessing to those who cannot afford medical care or their medications.  Take time to direct them to community clinics in your area and work with them to secure prescriptions.

Always respect the authority of the law, do not hesitate to speak out for what is right and true, and never prejudice others.  Each of us needs to dedicate ourselves to making medications accessible to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay.  In many cases, we are the poor patients’ last hope, so we have to know how to help them secure their medications.  Indeed, they are a blessing to us as they give us the opportunity to be a blessing in their lives.

When we make our patients realize they are our purpose, we make them feel valued and cared for.  And in the end, believe me, you will be the benefactor.  Physically, you will experience this when your patients bring you cookies or goodies, or you receive another gift of thanks.

Sometimes, too, you will not even realize how you have blessed someone’s life as a pharmacist.   For example, Dr. Remen relates the story of a gentleman who had patented a medical invention.  George was the ceo of a small, but very successful company that manufactured and distributed the device worldwide.

George had been diagnosed with lung cancer that was metastatic and came to Dr. Remen badly shaken and hopeless.  He shared how he had two unsuccessful marriages and five children.  In his words, “I support all of them and know none of them.  I have spent my whole life doing business. I am leaving nothing behind but a lot of money.”

The device George had invented was a medical device enabling people with a chronic illness, previously unmanageable, to live almost normally.  As it turned out, another one of Dr. Remen’s patients used the device and Dr. Remen asked Stephanie (her patient’s name) if it would be possible for her to meet George to share with him about the difference his work had made in her life?  Shyly. Stephanie said “yes,” and asked if George would want to come to her home for dinner so that she could show him the life he had made possible for her?  When told of the invitation, George wanted to take the Stephanie and her husband out to dinner at an exclusive restaurant.  However, Dr. Remen said, “no, please go to her home.” 

When he arrived for dinner, George was greeted by Stephanie’s entire family–her husband, her daughter, her mother, three brothers and sisters, several aunts and uncles, and a crowd of nieces & nephews, neighbors and friends -- the whole community of people who sustained Stephanie in the years she was an invalid.  They even had decorated the house and everyone had cooked. 

They had come to share with George a story and each one played a part, a different side of it to share.  It took them more than three hours to do so and at the very end, Stephanie, shared with George, “this story is really about you, George.  We thought you needed to know.”  Later, George admitted to Dr. Remen he cried the entire time.   Then, Dr. Remen asked George, “How many of those devices do you produce every year?”  George responded, “Close to 10,000.  I just knew the number, I had no idea what they meant.”

Thus, we may bless people’s lives and not even know it just as George did for Stephanie.  Your legacy will not be the financial gain you will achieve in your life, it will be the number of lives you have touched and blessed, i.e., family, friends, and the patients you will serve.

All of you are intelligent. You demonstrated that by being here this afternoon.  You will learn that how you use your intelligence in life will become wisdom.  As Remen points out, “Wisdom is not something that we acquire; it is something that over time we may become.  It involves a change in our basic nature, a deepening of our capacity for compassion, loving kindness, forgiveness, harmlessness, and service.”  Life itself “waters the seed of intelligence” that is within us. 

So, in closing, i ask you, do you want to touch eternity by being a blessing in those whose lives you will touch?  I believe all of you want to do so and i hope you will.  When you do, you will bring honor to yourself, your family name, the faculty of the Rangel College of Pharmacy, and our beloved profession of pharmacy.

Thank you very much for your kind attention and my sincerest best wishes to each of you.