Commencement Address

Sherif Emil, MD, CM
The University of California, Irvine
School of Medicine
June 5, 2010

It is a profound honor for me to be here today at UCI to partake in the commencement ceremonies of a group of individuals who are destined to become 104 of the best doctors in America. My presence at this podium today is the most significant event in my medical and surgical career spanning two decades. It is so significant because the invitation to join you today came from a very special group of medical students, students whom I admire immensely, students who are my pride and joy, students who give me true hope in the future of medicine in this great country of ours, hope that American medicine’s best days are still ahead, that its most lasting accomplishments are still to be realized, that one day the best health care in the world will be available to all our citizens without regard to financial means, personal circumstances, or status in society.

Although I left UCI in 2008 and moved to a distinctly less pleasant climate (Canada), UCI has never left me.  My career in pediatric surgery began and matured at this university. I had wonderful mentors, and superb colleagues.


Finally, please, please stay involved in issues of health care policy. If you think we have passed health care reform, and can now rest easy, think again. We have not passed health care reform. We have only passed some health care expansion. It is too early to judge the effects of what just occurred, but it is not too early to be certain that much work still lies ahead. Make your voice heard in the national debate that started in your senior year, and will almost certainly rage on. It was interesting for me, as an American physician practicing in Canada, to see the recent negative depictions of the Canadian system in TV ads and lay media, depictions that bore absolutely no resemblance to the actual environment in which I practice daily. My reality is very different. I can see any patient and any patient can see me – total freedom of practice. My patients’ parents have peace of mind regarding their children’s health. If they change jobs or lose their job altogether in a bad economy, their children will still get the same care and see the same physicians. Micromanagement of daily practice has become a thing of the past for me. There are no contracts, authorizations, denials, appeals, reviews, forms to complete, IPA’s, HMO’s, or PPO’s. Our Division’s billing overhead is 1 %. My relationship with the hospital administration is defined by professional, not financial, standards. I have no allegiance to any corporate or government entity, nor does one ever get in between me and the patient. This environment, which some denigrate as the ever so scary system of “socialized medicine” allows for more patient autonomy and choice than was available to most of my patients in California. That is not at all to say that I practice in a medical utopia. There is no perfect health care system. The Canadian system has its own set of difficulties, challenges, and shortcomings, and Canadians are also looking to significantly reform their system. But as physicians, we have to enter the debate and we have to enter it objectively, salvaging it from the bias, misrepresentation, and demagoguery that has characterized it. Health care should not be a liberal or conservative issue, for disease, disability, and death do not recognize political affiliations. As a socially conservative Christian myself, my belief that health care is a fundamental human right, and my efforts on behalf of single payer universal health coverage stem from my faith, and not despite it. My faith calls for personal morality, but also for societal morality – how do we treat the sick amongst us, the weak amongst us, the least amongst us?

Sherif Emil, MD, CM

The students know. They brought Sherif Emil back from Canada to give them their commencement address. The future of health care in America is in good hands.