Anesthesiologist Honored as “Voice of the Class”

When an email came in from Duke’s associate dean for medical education asking Duke Anesthesiology’s Dr. Nancy Knudsen to be the distinguished speaker at this year’s Hippocratic Oath Ceremony at the Duke University School of Medicine graduation, she had to catch her breath.

“I was sitting next to my mom when I received the email and I couldn’t believe that I had been asked to speak at such an occasion. I immediately thought, I’ll never have this feeling again,” says Dr. Knudsen. “I was honored but wondered why they chose me,” she jokes.

According to Dr. Caroline Haynes’ email, the advisory deans extended the invitation to Dr. Knudsen because she is so well-regarded by the administration and the medical students, along with being known for her “wonderful approach to teaching and the care of patients.” Together, they thought Dr. Knudsen would deliver an inspirational speech, leaving the graduates with “a message to hold onto.”

And that she did. On Friday, May 13, Dr. Knudsen delivered an emotional yet humorous speech (inside the newly renovated Duke University Chapel) with no shortage of celebrity spoofs. And she left the graduating class with an inspirational mnemonic, CHARGE, which stands for curiosity, humility, adaptability, respect, gratitude and empathy (watch Dr. Knudsen’s full speech).

“I was honored but intimidated to think that at the end of their careers, before they start their internships, I was the one who was going to give them some of the last words of advice. It was a privilege,” says Dr. Knudsen. “Before I delivered my speech, I realized in that moment that how I was feeling, is how all those students must feel before they begin their internships – scared and excited, yet hopeful.”

For Dr. Knudsen, the speech was certainly a high point in her career as she joins a list of high-profile leaders at Duke who have delivered the Hippocratic Oath Ceremony speech, including Dean Nancy Andrews and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Robert Lefkowitz. Dr. Knudsen teaches four courses for medical students. She is the course director for the fourth-year acute care curriculum, faculty member for the PRACTICE course, faculty member for the Clinical Skills course and Capstone. It’s easy to see that teaching is a passion of Dr. Knudsen’s; a passion that she says allows her to learn just as much from her students, if not more, than they learn from her.

“I love to think that I will have some ability to shape the way they care for their patients in the future,” adds Dr. Knudsen. “I think back to the role models I have, how much they mean to me, and how they have influenced the type of doctor I’ve become. If I have any ability to impact the type of doctor these students will become, I feel I will have accomplished more in my career than I have ever hoped for.”

Chris KeithAnesthesiologist Honored as “Voice of the Class”