The real privilege of becoming a doctor isn’t the letters beside your name

Dr. Luke Hamms at Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine graduation

As I think about what it means to become a doctor, it is difficult to articulate the privilege and weight of such an honor without immediately considering all the people who made it possible. The “doctor” may receive the title, but they are not the only actor in the scene. During my orientation, associate dean Amy Smith addressed the rigors of medical school and concluded, “It takes a village get to a student through medical school.” How true that is. While residency match day and graduation are wonderful celebrations of a doctor’s accomplishments, many who have walked along the path with us aren’t celebrated quite the same. On behalf of the class of 2023, and as their class president, I want to thank every person on this journey with us. We would not be here today if it weren’t for you.

Personally, there aren’t enough words to describe the gratitude I have for my own tribe. Taylor, my beautiful bride of almost 7 years, has not only supported and celebrated me but also sacrificed and suffered for me. During my time in medical school, she has worked two jobs as a nurse and birthed and cared for our two children. My wife and our children have brought joy and laughter to some of the toughest moments along this journey.  My parents and siblings have sacrificed so much over so many years to support me. As a first-generation college graduate, my father worked relentlessly as a “blue-collar” man and instilled in me a strong work ethic. My mother raised me and my wild brothers and sister with unconditional sacrifice. My siblings gave an ear to all my woes and reminded me of the importance of being a good listener.

Many may say or hear “doctor” and immediately consider the prestige of such a title. In preparing to become a doctor, however, I have seen a much deeper privilege to the life of a physician. To be a doctor is to be entrusted by people who hardly know you with their health. I believe the greatest doctors are not those who consider their patients privileged to see them.  Rather, they consider themselves privileged to have their patients. To be a doctor is to be allowed into the deepest parts of people’s lives – the brokenness, times of celebration, family drama –  and given the opportunity to help. Sometimes helping will look like healing, but other helping will look like holding the hand of a patient as you give them the worst news they could have imagined. The real privilege of being a doctor isn’t a couple letters around your name.  It’s far humbler than that. It’s the honor of patients inviting you into their lives.


Luke Hamm, M.D., is president of the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine Class of 2023, which graduated Friday, April 28.

This article appeared in the April 30, 2023, edition of the Herald Dispatch.