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Ebola Doctor To Grads: Enter The Suffering Of Others

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's an honor for anyone to deliver the commencement address at their alma mater. Most people don't end up doing it just six years after they graduate. Dr. Kent Brantley did. He was one of the American doctors who contracted Ebola in Liberia. Last weekend, he spoke to graduates at the Indiana University School of Medicine. He began his speech by talking about what drove him to become a doctor - a sense of compassion. He said compassion is when you enter into the suffering of another. Suffering was everywhere in Liberia.

(SOUNDBITE OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE 2015 GRADUATION)

DR. KENT BRANTLY: In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn't make me feel like a failure as a physician because I had learned that there's a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn't even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.

MARTIN: Dr. Kent Brantley speaking to graduates at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.