‘What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then’ (2023)

HMS Class Day keynote speaker Sanjay Gupta shares insights from 30 years in medicine

By JAKE MILLER Education

8 min read


This is one in a series of stories about Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine graduation celebrations for MD, DMD, master's, and PhD graduates.

At a time of great change and immense challenges for the health and well-being of people around the world, the skills and abilities of doctors have never been more important.

That was one of the main messages keynote speaker Sanjay Gupta conveyed to graduates of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine at their Class Day ceremony on May 25.

‘What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then’ (1)

“Your ability to do some incredible things in the world at a time when we desperately need it has taken on a greater sense of urgency,” Gupta said, referencing a popular American superhero film when he added, “You are the new guardians of the galaxy.”

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Much has changed since Gupta graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School 30 years ago, said the Emmy award-winning television medical correspondent, who is also a bestselling author, a practicing neurosurgeon, and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial hospital in Atlanta.

Thanks to major breakthroughs in biomedical science, Gupta said, we can now treat and even cure diseases that were barely understood when he was in medical school, but he added that many of the people who need the care most don’t have access to treatments that could save their lives. The United States spends more than ever on health care but life expectancy is falling, he said.

“You have the ability to change that,” he told the graduates. “You have the capacity to restore the faith, to reverse some of those tragic trends, and reassure people who are going to come to depend on you.”

For the past 20 years, Gupta said, as a physician and a storyteller, he has kept a focus on the stories of patients and the story of the scientific process, which he said are key ingredients for the story of humanity itself.

“So many years later,” Gupta said, “I'm still learning every day from those stories.”

Learning from patients

Gupta recalled one evening when he was on call and a 93-year-old man was brought into his emergency department. A scan showed that the patient had a bleed in his brain.

“Being completely honest, I thought maybe he was too old to undergo an operation,” Gupta said.

But then he started to hear more of the patient’s story. The man was incredibly healthy, still an avid runner, and was even still working part-time as an accountant. It was also revealed that his brain bleed occurred because he fell off his roof after taking a leaf blower up to clean off leaves. The physicians decided to operate to decompress his brain.

“I was pretty nervous to see afterward how he was going to wake up,” Gupta said.

He wondered if the surgery had given the patient more time to enjoy life, or would only give him a life of prolonged suffering.

But when Gupta entered the recovery room, the patient was reading news on his smartphone, his reading glasses adjusted over his bandage.

Gupta asked about the accident and wondered if the surgery had inspired any insights from the patient.

“He said, ‘no more blowing leaves off the roof,” Gupta recalled.

“It taught me a lot,” Gupta said, reflecting on the power of learning from patients’ stories when making decisions as a physician.

Among other important lessons Gupta said he’s learned since graduating medical school were several simple truths, such as the importance of being kind, of always trying to keep fixing problems, because sometimes the attempts can be transformative, and the value of trying to become wise rather than simply smart.

He advised the new doctors to learn from their defeats and to embrace even the smallest wins. And finally, he counseled, be sure to cherish lifelong friendships.

The Sacred Physician-Patient Bond

Watch Sanjay Gupta's keynote speech

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One Patient at a Time

Watch Dean Daley's address to the class of 2023

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Connecting with the Patient

Watch Dean Giannobile's speech to the class of 2023

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The Class of 2023

Of the hundreds of graduates gathered with their families and friends on the HMS quadrangle, there were 167 MD, 35 DMD, 133 PhD, and 279 master’s degrees conferred. Forty-three of the newly minted MDs also received PhDs or master’s degrees or are candidates for their additional degrees in May 2023.

Edward Hundert, HMS dean for medical education, opened the ceremony, introducing the ceremony’s student moderators, Ahmed Ahmed and Nicky Joseph, both members of the MD class of 2023. Ahmed and Joseph, in turn, introduced the co-moderator from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Paulina Miller.

“Graduates, learning and growing alongside you has been the joy of a lifetime,” Joseph said. “We have watched all of you shine in your strengths, embrace moments of growth, become fuller versions of yourselves, and uplift one another along the way. Each and every one of you has led in ways that are unique and authentic to you, and for that, we are in total awe.”

Faced with remarkable challenges during their years in medical school, Joseph noted that his fellow graduates responded by creating remarkable solutions: they led efforts to build a national student response network for COVID-19, advocated for abortion care access, helped to establish mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics to improve access to crucial care, served on health equity roundtables at the White House, helped create a climate change curriculum at HMS, and increased accessibility to voting through the health system.

“The list goes on, and I am constantly in awe of what our classmates have done,” Joseph said. “I can only imagine what they will do in the coming years.

“You all have a gift to give.” Ahmed said. “You could make us see how the world could be, in spite of the way that it is.”

The graduates acknowledged that their years at HMS and HSDM were challenging times, but said that they are looking forward to putting their skills to use.

“I think for all the med students, it’s been a long journey, having trained through a pandemic, so I think coming out the other end even more motivated to help people has been a great thing,” said MD grad John-Anthony Fraga, interviewed at the Harvard Commencement’s Morning Exercises in Cambridge.

“I’m excited to start my journey in residency,” said Fraga, who will be entering an anesthesia residency at Stanford.

The Class of 2023 includes students from all over the United States, plus 50 other countries, with graduates representing each of the Earth’s inhabited continents.

MD grad Yanet Gomez and her family came to the U.S. from Cuba when she was 11 years old.

“It’s been a really difficult journey to get here,” she said. “I keep thinking about my parents seeing me walk across the stage.”

“I think we’re all just so privileged because of the opportunities that we've had, and I’m really excited to serve my patients and keep in mind where I came from while I do that,” she added.

Community — Better Together

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The Power of Story

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Physician — Ambassador

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Great promise for future of medicine

In his remarks, William Giannobile, dean of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, noted that members of the graduating class were active in a great variety of different kinds of activities, all focused on ways to make a difference for their patients and their profession.

In addition to being actively involved in basic, translational, and clinical research initiatives, curriculum design, and sustainability efforts, he said, dental students also supported efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, community outreach, mentoring promising young students considering dental school, and creating oral health literacy materials in many languages to reach historically underserved communities.

“It is clear to me through their actions, the Class of 2023 sees a future where they can serve as advocates and leaders and use their voices to lift others,” Giannobile said.

HMS Dean George Daley, in his closing remarks, challenged the graduates to do their best for their patients, one patient at a time.

Daley said he personally draws inspiration from the accomplishments of two legendary Harvard physicians: the late Paul Farmer, who was Kolokotrones University Professor and former chair of the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, and Jim O’Connell, president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and an assistant professor of medicine at HMS.

Farmer was known for transforming notions of the kinds of health care that could be possible for people living in clinical deserts in the rural districts of countries like Rwanda, Haiti, and Peru. O’Connell has revolutionized care delivery for the unhoused in Boston, who are also among those most overburdened with disease in the city, Daley said.

“Although both Paul and Jim are extraordinary medical humanitarians, the good they’ve done rests in their accumulated ordinary deeds,” he said. “Soaking the coarsened feet of homeless patients, for example, as Jim often did in his early years as their doctor, or treating a child with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, as Paul did again and again in Peru and Haiti.”

Daley noted that Farmer’s and O’Connell’s transformational work was built on a singular focus on serving the individual patients in front of them.

“You, too, will accumulate ordinary deeds,” Daley said. “But from the ordinary, done over time, relentlessly, generously, faithfully, you too will accumulate an extraordinary body of work.”

Images: Steve Lipofsky

‘What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then’ (2)

HMS/HSDM Class of 2023 Oath

Medical and dental graduates reading their class oath

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What is the saying if I knew then what I know now? ›

'If I knew then what I know now', is a phrase many of us use without even thinking about it. We use this phrase as a way to rationalise and validate the learning we're doing today in the context of past experiences.

What is an example of I wish I knew? ›

I wish I knew the winning numbers in the lottery. I wish I knew how to get rich without working. I wish I knew how to fly.

What are some things you wish you knew before? ›

31 Things I wish I knew before I got to know them…
  • Dignity is important. ...
  • Stand up for yourself. ...
  • Have a goal. ...
  • Keep a daily schedule. ...
  • Give yourself an altruistic daily goal — be good to someone. ...
  • Things that are easily achieved are not necessarily the best. ...
  • Try not to stress.
Sep 29, 2018

What is something you know now that you wish you had known when you were younger? ›

The one thing I wish I knew when I was younger was to have more patience in handling situations. I didn't have to give up my childhood dreams when I became an adult… The one thing I wish I had realized earlier is the impact one often has on others — both in professional and personal relationships.

What can I say instead of you know what I'm saying? ›

What is another word for you know what I'm saying?
you seeunderstood
you see what I'm sayingdo you catch my drift
am I getting my point acrossdo you get me
do you understandget it
got ityou feel me
2 more rows

What is the saying when you know you know? ›

If you know you know, abbreviated as iykyk is a slang expression, most prevalent on social media posts, among teens, girls and on teenage girls' social media posts. The phrase itself refers to the fact that some information is exclusively known and understood by some and it cannot be explained to others.

What are 5 examples of wish? ›

  • I wish I could see you next week. If only we could stop for a drink. ...
  • I don't like my work. ...
  • I don't like this place. ...
  • I wish I was/were taller. ...
  • I wish I had worked harder when I was at school. ...
  • We should phone them in case they are lost. ...
  • Imagine you won the lottery. ...
  • Suppose you hadn't passed your exams.

What are the three most common wishes? ›

What are the most common 3 wishes? The most common wishes were for friends, happiness, health, marriage, money, success, self-improvement, and to help other people.

What are some examples of I wish I can? ›

"I wish I could sail around the world." "I wish I could remain calm during all of this." "I wish I could remember his name." "I wish I could replace my old car with a new one."

What is the most common make-a-wish wish? ›

To start you thinking, here are the four key types of wishes we are asked to grant most often:
  • I wish to meet... To meet someone special or important like a hero, celebrity or influencer.
  • I wish to be... To be someone or something – such as a superhero, princess or a character.
  • I wish to go... ...
  • I wish to have...

What is one thing you wish you had learned earlier in life? ›

Some of the most important discoveries learned through life include: eat today for your health 20 years from now, surround yourself with people who lift you up, find a sense of purpose, prioritize self-care, try new things, be nice to everyone and learn how to say “no.”

What I wished I knew at 20? ›

#1 You can't change the past, but you can learn from it and make better choices going forward. #2 Life is what you make it, even if you don't have any money or great qualifications. #3 Being selfish is not wrong. #4 Self-love matters.

What is the best advice you would give your younger self? ›

Be kinder to yourself.” “Always know your worth.” “The world is bigger than you think it is and your worries aren't as important as you think they are, just be you.” “Don't worry if you look different, or feel you look different, from most other people.

What are the things you want to tell your younger self? ›

I would tell my younger self not to be afraid to try new things, take risks and put herself out there for opportunities. If things don't work out, don't stay down, ask yourself what lessons you can learn from it, and move ahead – I call it failing forward.

What advice would you give your younger self questions? ›

The best advice people can give their younger selves
  • Make plans but write them in pencil. ...
  • Read better books. ...
  • Invest in friendships. ...
  • Know when to leave. ...
  • Forget about following your passion. ...
  • Solve harder problems. ...
  • Forgive first.
Jan 20, 2021

How do you say I know without saying I know? ›

Ways of saying that you know, understand or agree - thesaurus
  1. of course. adverb. used when you have just realized something.
  2. OK. interjection. ...
  3. all right. interjection. ...
  4. fair enough. phrase. ...
  5. I know. phrase. ...
  6. if you like. phrase. ...
  7. I see. phrase. ...
  8. I know what you mean. phrase.

How do you say you're confused without saying it? ›

synonyms for confused
  1. baffled.
  2. befuddled.
  3. bewildered.
  4. dazed.
  5. disorganized.
  6. distracted.
  7. muddled.
  8. perplexed.

How do you say let me know without saying it? ›

“Please Advise” Alternatives: Casual
  1. Please let me know. This phrase is a casual way of saying please keep me informed. ...
  2. Please keep me posted. This phrase is another casual and friendly way of saying please keep me informed. ...
  3. Please get back to me. ...
  4. Please fill me in. ...
  5. Please keep me in the loop.

What does it mean when someone says you know what I'm saying? ›

informal. (also if you know/see what I'm saying) used to ask if someone understands or agrees with you, especially if you have not expressed yourself very clearly: It's just the best feeling, know what I'm saying?

What is the phrase for all knowing? ›

One who is omniscient literally knows all.

What is the saying that's for me to know and you to? ›

that's for me to know and you to find out - Wiktionary.

What is an example of secret wish? ›

Everybody has a secret wish, a wish to do something or be somebody other than what they actually are. Such wishes mostly manifest themselves during childhood — like a famous cook fuelling a desire in one to be a chef, or a danseuse stoking the fires of dance.

How do you write a wish message? ›

  1. “Best of luck at your race tomorrow! ...
  2. “Good luck today! ...
  3. “Good luck and good wishes.”
  4. “All the luck in the world, all wished for you.”
  5. “Good luck, you! ...
  6. “Love and luck to you on your first day at work. ...
  7. “Sending good vibes to take with you to your treatment.”
  8. “I know how important this is for you.
Jul 16, 2018

What is an example of wish and if only? ›

I wish I lived closer to my family. If only I hadn't lost her phone number. She must think I'm so rude for not calling her. I wish they wouldn't park their car in front of my house.

What are two important things most people wish in their life? ›

Happiness, compassion, love and peace are all part of life and must be shared and not hoarded, for that will interfere with the flow of life.

What are the two types of wishes? ›

There are two main types of Wishes: the permanent Standard Wish, Wanderlust Invocation, and limited-time Event Wishes for Characters and Weapons.

What are your top 3 wishes in life interview question? ›

  • wish for unlimited wishes.
  • be rich/wealthy.
  • i wish life could be easier.

What would I wish for myself? ›

My hope for myself is to enjoy a day filled with happiness and joy with friends and family. Growing up is the best journey I've ever embarked on. I enjoy my life, and I enjoy being alive all the time. May the blessings of God be with me forever!

What is a good wish? ›

Well wishes are kind words, either spoken or written, that share a desire for a person to have good health or good things or that show them support.

What does I wish you all the best? ›

What Do We Mean When We Say “All The Best”? “All the best” is defined as a phrase that is used to say goodbye as well as wish someone “success, health, and happiness for the future”. The origin of the phrase “all the best” can probably be traced back to the longer signoff phrase “I wish you all the best of luck”.

What makes Make-A-Wish unique? ›

Contributions of time, talent and money allow us to transform lives, one wish at a time. Wishes come true because of the caring actions of volunteers, donors, medical professionals and communities who come together for one purpose: To create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

What is Make-A-Wish important? ›

For more than 40 years, Make-A-Wish® has restored hope and joy to more than 350,000 children with critical illnesses. A wish provides much-needed relief from the trauma caused by a critical illness, through a rejuvenating experience that can give a child a better chance of surviving and thriving.

What is the oldest age to Make-A-Wish? ›

Does Make-A-Wish grant adult wishes? Make-A-Wish does not grant wishes to adults older than 18. Read more about our specific eligibility requirements. Other wish-granting organizations serve those older than 18.

What is the most important thing learned in life? ›

One of the most important life lessons that you need to learn is the importance of patience. Patience is defined as an individual's ability to wait for something significant to happen without feeling frustrated due to the delay. In life, you'll have to wait for a lot of things without feeling negative.

What have you always wished for in your life? ›

And wish that your wish has come true.
  • Wish #1: Wealth or Happiness. A no-brainer, surely? ...
  • Wish #2: Success or Happiness. ...
  • Wish #3: Fame or Happiness. ...
  • Wish #4: Status or Happiness. ...
  • Wish #5: Attractiveness or Happiness. ...
  • Wish #6: Sex or Happiness. ...
  • Wish #7: Health or Happiness. ...
  • Wish #8: Enlightenment or Happiness.

Why your 20s are the most important? ›

Facts and figures aside, your 20s are the time in your life when you learn how to be an adult. You'll get a job, make friends, pay bills, take care of yourself, have relationships, and generally gain an understanding of what those previous two decades were trying to teach you about life.

What should everyone know in their 20s? ›

Here are a list of 20 things that you should really need to know when you're in your 20s.
  • You Have A Long Journey Ahead. ...
  • Find Your True Passion. ...
  • Failure Is Your Best Friend. ...
  • Learn About Financial Literacy. ...
  • Don't buy expensive stuff to impress other people you don't like. ...
  • Live Independently.
Feb 10, 2022

What advice would you give to your 10 year old self? ›

“Have confidence in yourself. Don't look for anyone else's validation for your own happiness or success. Learn to love and respect yourself without worrying if you're 'good enough' or 'cool enough. ' Realize that you are a person full of amazing potential and deserving of great things.

What are the pieces of advice that you want to give your future self 10 years from now? ›

10 Pieces of Advice for My Future Self
  • Control your environment. ...
  • Cure your ignorance. ...
  • Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. ...
  • Align yourself with those who matter to you. ...
  • Create more value than you capture. ...
  • Use humor wisely. ...
  • The obstacle is the way. ...
  • Don't react.
Jan 9, 2018

What is your biggest advice to your future self? ›

' Keep in mind the reason for doing what you do and how it benefits the people around you. Say "I'll figure it out" instead of "I don't know." Develop a mindset that recognizes failures, limitations, and challenges as opportunities to learn, experiment, and grow. Be surrounded by people who motivate you.

What is the saying if you know what I mean? ›

convention. You can use expressions such as you know what I mean and if you know what I mean to suggest that the person listening to you understands what you are trying to say, and so you do not have to explain any more. [spoken]

What is the meaning of the idiom to know what's what? ›

idiom informal. Add to word list Add to word list. If you know what's what, you have a lot of experience and can judge people and situations well: Linda's been in the business for 30 years - she knows what's what.

What does the quote to know what you know and what you do not know that is true knowledge mean? ›

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.” Confucius believed that if we have enough sense to recognize our gaps in knowledge, we'll find ways to close those gaps. As a leader, you are not expected to know everything.

What does the idiom I knew it mean? ›

I knew it. idiom. —used when someone has confirmed what one has already guessed.

How do you say I know without saying it? ›

Ways of saying that you know, understand or agree - thesaurus
  1. of course. adverb. used when you have just realized something.
  2. OK. interjection. ...
  3. all right. interjection. ...
  4. fair enough. phrase. ...
  5. I know. phrase. ...
  6. if you like. phrase. ...
  7. I see. phrase. ...
  8. I know what you mean. phrase.

How do you say I know without saying I? ›

Ok/Sure/Alright – These are simple words which can be used to let someone know that you understand.

What is an example sentence for I know what you mean? ›

used for telling someone that you understand their situation very well, often because you have had a similar experience. 'He's so hard to talk to. ' 'I know what you mean. '

What does the idiom know all the answers mean? ›

idiom. : to know the solution to every problem.

What are 5 idioms and their meanings? ›

Common English idioms & expressions
It's a piece of cakeIt's easyby itself
It's raining cats and dogsIt's raining hardby itself
Kill two birds with one stoneGet two things done with a single actionby itself
Let the cat out of the bagGive away a secretas part of a sentence
55 more rows

What is the idiom for tell them what they already know? ›

Teaching (your) grandmother to suck eggs is an English language saying that refers to a person giving advice to another person in a subject with which the other person is already familiar (and probably more so than the first person).

What is the meaning of the only thing I know is that I know nothing? ›

Therefore, with the phrase “all I know is that I know nothing,” Socrates expressed that there is human (limited) and divine (limitless) wisdom. In addition, the philosopher believed that a person, the wisest of all after God, should not think they know what they do not know.

What is the meaning of the quote from Confucius when you know what you know and do not know that is true knowledge? ›

To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge. Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing. Without knowledge action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.

What is the quote by Einstein about knowledge? ›

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

What does if only you knew about it mean? ›

If you only knew (what happened): If you had known, If only you were aware, If you had just been aware (what happened) idiom.

What does know what I'm saying mean? ›

idiom. informal. (also if you know/see what I'm saying) used to ask if someone understands or agrees with you, especially if you have not expressed yourself very clearly: It's just the best feeling, know what I'm saying?

What can I say instead of before I knew it? ›

What is another word for before you know it?
in a momentvery soon
before too longon the double
first offbefore one knows it
tout de suiteany time
in nothing flatany second
103 more rows


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