Peter W. Carmel, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and president-elect of the American Medical Association (AMA), the nation’s largest and most influential physician organization, delivered the keynote address to the largest graduating class in University history during Commencement Exercises held today at the Izod Center in East Rutherford. The Class of 2011 was the 41st in UMDNJ history and included more than 580 medical and dental school students along with more than 600 students from the UMDNJ-School of Nursing.

Dr. Carmel said to the graduates, “Being entrusted with the care of others is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your life.”  He told them what a moving experience it is to change someone’s life for the better in ways that only a health professional can.

Dr. Carmel is a professor and chair of the Neurological Surgery Department and co-medical director of the Neurological Institute of New Jersey at UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School. He is the first neurosurgeon to be elected president of the AMA and will assume that office in June 2011.

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UMDNJ President William F. Owen, Jr., M.D., led the ceremonies and offered welcoming remarks that included warm congratulations. He advised the graduates to guard against defining themselves by their positions as leaders in the health care field, but instead be defined by their “behavior, compassion and sense of what’s best for patients.”

The graduates also heard from Kevin M. Barry, M.D., M.B.A., chairman of the UMDNJ Board of Trustees, who commended the graduates on their success and reminded them that they will be judged and fondly remembered by their patients not only for their exceptional work but for the “steadfast daily contributions” they make to help patients every day.

This year’s program also included special acknowledgement for UMDNJ’s military students, who were commissioned as officers in their respective branches of the service in recognition of the professional degrees they have earned.

In addition, Sidney Pestka, MD, who stepped down in 2010 after 24 years as chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics, Microbiology and Immunology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, received a special honor.  Dr. Pestka was warmly described as the “father of interferon” which is used to treat numerous conditions including cancers.