Michael Dowling’s Healthcare & Life Sciences 50 Keynote Address

Michael Dowling, CEO and president of Northwell Health, delivers the keynote remarks at the second annual Irish America Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Awards October 7, 2015. (Photo: Nuala Purcell)

October 8, 2015

On October 7, 2015, Irish America celebrated the second annual Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Awards, with Michael Dowling, CEO and president of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health Systems) delivering the keynote speech. Below is a full transcript of his moving and pertinent remarks, which wove together themes of ingenuity and progress within the Irish and Irish-American medical community with contemporary global immigration to a deep sense of history, calling on the attendees to remember that they are “all immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants.” 

For photos of the event, see here.

And for the full list of the 2015 Irish America Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 honorees, click here.

It’s a pleasure as I said to be here, because this is a unique group of people. The whole audience here is unique. But also specifically the people here who are being honored tonight, and being recognized. You’re an extraordinary group, and it’s my pleasure and my privilege to be part of that group. And we have some things in common. Not only the honorees at this event tonight, but the honorees at previous events. We have common characteristics.

If you think about it, we are all motivated by a desire to do a number of common things. We’re all motivated by a desire to innovate, to pioneer discovery, to answer those questions that others find hard to answer. We’re motivated to empower the imagination, to stretch peoples’ thought process, to think about what’s possible, to defeat the dictum that it cannot be done.

We as a group, you as a group, we like to break with tradition, we like to break the status quo. We like to take risks, we like to lead, not just follow. Those are extraordinary characteristics. Those are the characteristics that move things forward, that get people thinking about what can be done. Not about what cannot be done.

Another characteristic is to talk about the potential that we all have, even to do more than we currently have done. Because none of us, despite our best efforts, have stretched the imagination and our brain power to the extent that we know we can stretch it. The possibilities are extraordinary. And I believe in this firmly that that intellectual curiosity, that inquisitiveness, that perseverance, that explorer mentality is essential to the Irish quotient, and a key part of Irish history.

All we have to do is think of all the fabulous people of Irish descent and from Ireland that have made some remarkable breakthroughs, all the time, going back to the beginning of time. Dr. Campbell from Donegal, who won the Nobel this week, is just one example. Jim Watson is another one, and it goes on and on and on.

It is also important to remember that it stretches way beyond the narrow definitions of healthcare. Two of the six physicians who signed the Declaration of Independence were trained in Ireland. You can recount all those wonderful things through the names and the personalities of so many people who we know, and so many people who we wish we knew, and so many of those people who we read about in the history books and beyond.

But what’s more important about this group and all those others who have contributed in this arena of health and life sciences, is that it is only focused on curing disease, finding treatment for disease, preventing disease, helping people’s lives get better. That is indeed a noble endeavor. And all of us that have been involved in it over the years can feel remarkably proud that that’s the profession we’re in, that that’s the area we focus on, that that’s where we put our energies and our commitment and our resources, because there is nothing better than being able to say you tried to do something, even in a small way, to help other peoples lives be better, because of the cumulative endeavors of all these people working together over the years.

Just think of what is possible to do today that was not possible to do five or ten years ago. Think of all the advances in cancer, in heart disease, what we can do in orthopedics, what we can do in global science, what we can do as a result of the sequencing of the human genome. People are better off today; we’re all living better; we’re living longer. When you’re involved in a healthcare system like I am, which is when you get very close to things that are going on in the hospital, by physicians and researchers on a day-to-day basis, you’re absolutely enthralled by what can occur and what is occurring that would be almost unimaginable ten years ago. That should make us all feel better.

And when you think about the possibilities for the future, we’ve come a long way, but just think about what it would be like standing here ten years from now of those things which will have transpired between today and ten years from now – the whole new field of bio-electronic medicine, the new technologies, the new software tools, the new diagnostic tools – all those things that will make it possible to do extraordinary work going forward.

So we can look back on it and say, “Well, we’ve made lots of progress up to the year 2015, but just imagine what can be done between 2015 and 2025.” The potential is extraordinary, and we are all part of it.

And as we sit here and stand here tonight, and we are recalling all the great things we have done, it is also very important for all of us to recall all of the people who have helped us get to this point. Because irrespective of what each of us has ever done in our small ways, have not been done without the support of friends and neighbors and even critics and families and our parents, all have contributed to our situation here, which quite frankly we are a very very privileged group.

We are a very very privileged group indeed, and we should not forget about it. Especially in the context of what’s going on across the world these days. We should think not only about our immediate families that have helped us, but just for a moment think about those people who came here – family members from decades or centuries ago – who came here facing enormous hardship and discrimination, who came to this country searching for opportunity. It’s an extraordinary story.

You know, when I was looking up the history of the Yacht Club, it dates back to 1844. In Irish history, that’s an interesting period. That was the famine times. That’s when this, the Yacht club in the United States was originally formed. The original this. But it was during that period of time that people came here in unbelievable circumstances searching for opportunity in a world at the time of deep unknown. They didn’t know where they were going. And they did not know what they would face. Those are the people who had the courage. We as a people are benefactors of that courage.

And as we know it’s happening today. Not only in this country. Similar things are happening here and abroad. All you have to do is watch television. And at night read the stories, and reflect upon the troubles and the aspirations of so many people migrating from one part of the world to the other in search of opportunity.

The image of that three-year-old boy, Aylan Kurdi, on the beach is something that will stay with many of us forever – on the beach because of the struggle by his family to leave a country of poverty and oppression searching for opportunity in the unknown. We appreciate that.

History repeats itself. And we as Irish people have a special perspective with regard to that issue, and, I believe, as people who are currently quite fortunate, to have an obligation to bring some element of sanity, humanism, civility, and understanding into the debates that are currently going on politically in this country and abroad regarding people who want to move in search of opportunity.

And putting up with extraordinary hardship just like our predecessors did. As I said, history repeats itself. We should be concerned, I believe, because it’s all part of health. It’s all part of the effort to promote wellness, to try to promote opportunity for people, and help people have a better life. That’s our profession.

We also have to remind ourselves – and we should remind ourselves of this continuously – that we are all immigrants, or descendants of immigrants.

So as you watch TV, and you listen to the stories, and we sit and we take vows about some of the things that we try to accomplish, let us not forget the history, and those that did extraordinary things that probably we, as good as we think we are would probably never have the courage to do back in those days 100 years ago.

And that same courage is being personified today by people from all over the world by people searching for what so many others also searched for – opportunity.

And who knows, maybe in some future time some of the kids of those people will stand at podiums like this to talk about the major contributions they have just made to the societies they just entered.

So let’s be proud, proud of our noble profession, proud of our achievements, but always keep in perspective.

As David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”

Thank you so much. ♦

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