Last Friday in the Blue Hall of Stockholm City Hall we celebrated KI’s new doctors. This ceremony in the beautiful Blue Hall was a recognition of several years of diligent work and hardship. Our new doctors are to be congratulated on their achievements. With their KI diplomas in hand they are poised to make an impact on human health, not only in the Stockholm region, not only in Sweden, but in the world at large.

I speak of my own personal experience when I say that the conferment ceremony is the conclusion of a time full of rewards, but it is also the conclusion of a time replete with trials and tribulations, of a time littered with failed experiments, of a time full of ideas that led nowhere.

Wasted time? No. I embrace the American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who said the following: Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss. Each hurdle is a learning experience.

Unpredictability

This is what I find so fascinating with science. Its unpredictability. Its rollercoaster-like ups and downs. The American Astronomer Carl Sagan once said: Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. This mind-set has inspired and encouraged me through my own career. And I trust it will do the same with many of those who participated at the celebration last Friday: The exhilarating feeling of stumbling across something entirely new – of gaining insight nobody has had before you – is a driving force for science and for society.

Science thrives on a richness of perspectives. Just a few hours before the celebration, I returned to Stockholm from a trip to the University of Washington. Our KI delegation travelled to Seattle with the aim of bolstering the collaboration between our two institutions. Through three intensive days we identified new avenues for future collaboration, based on shared interests and complementary expertise. We discussed basic science, we discussed epidemiology, we discussed implementation research, and we discussed nursing science and education. The discussions were energized by the shared and overriding goal of improving human health. This goal is now firmly embedded in KI’s new vision, as part of our new strategy that will be passed through our board – the consistorium – in February next year.

Better health for all

Our brand new vision says that we should advance knowledge about life and that we should strive towards a better health for all. The small word “all” is key, It tells us that we – as a university – must work across geographical and generational borders; for equity and sustainability in health, in Sweden and worldwide. Our new strategy has 2030 as time horizon – the same time horizon as UN’s new agenda with its 17 sustainable development goals. This match is not coincidental. It is well thought through and points to the obvious: that the complexity of the challenges ahead is such that universities must contribute across all disciplines and across all domains.

Indeed, the contribution of universities is essential. The 17 sustainability development goals tell us in no uncertain terms that we need to broaden our perspectives of health. Health is inextricably intertwined with climate, with demography, with the quality of our institutions, with the socioeconomic disparities that continue to haunt us into the 21st century, We – as a medical university – must be attuned to the fact that health is created and impacted by decisions made in all political arenas – not only in the health care sector. We – as a medical university – must educate leaders that can grapple with the social and political determinants of health.

Break new ground

Karolinska Institutet is one of the world’s leading medical universities. As such, we must see health in the widest of contexts. We shall break new ground in basic science, to significantly benefit health in the long run, and we shall break new ground in clinical research, to significantly benefit health in the shorter run. In doing so we need to take advantage of the proximity between basic and clinical science in all our campuses. In few other biomedical campuses in the world – and I have been to many – do we see such a close proximity between basic science and clinical science as we do in Solna and Flemingsberg. It is up to us to draw advantage of this unique opportunity and the new infrastructure. The gains are many. And the gains are substantial.

When travelling abroad I am struck by the high standing of Karolinska Institutet. Our research and education are held in high esteem internationally. In a recent ranking we were placed number five in the world in the field of public health. We make an impact. With a diploma from Karolinska Institutet our new doctors will make an impact.

Health inequities

In my speech on Friday I addressed the new doctors: Your impact on health is sorely needed. Non-communicable diseases are on the rise the world over, and health inequities are profound and prevalent even in parts of our own country. There are enormous challenges ahead of us. We have an ageing population, we are facing diseases coupled to unhealthy lifestyles and governance dysfunctions, and we are seeing how resistant microbes are breaking through the defenses of current antibiotics. Despite large gains in health over the past few decades, the distribution of health risks and access to health care remain extremely unjust. To illustrate this, five billion people or about two-thirds of the world’s population, have no access to safe, affordable surgical and anaesthesia care when needed. These inequalities must be attended to. Medicine is certainly about molecules and cells, but first and foremost it is about our fellow human beings.

To our new doctors: Congratulations. Your future contributions to health will be most welcome, be it in the realms of basic or clinical science, in industry, or in the public sector.

This text is based on my opening speech at the conferment ceremony on Friday 9 November 2018.

 

From the celebration at Stockholm City Hall last Friday. Photo: Erik Cronberg 

 

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