One after another, the long-established physicians stood behind the podium to repeat the same mantra to the fresh-faced medical students.

Be passionate about your career, they insisted. Be compassionate with your patients, they added. And above all else, be human with everything you do.

I didn't expect such a warm message at an otherwise technical-minded orientation for the summer shadowing program at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.

"If you're going into medicine for the money, please don't. Go sell stocks and you'll make more money than here," said Dr. Vijay Dave (pronounced Dah-vay), director of the long-running program.

"It's very, very important to be a human being first and foremost," he told the students. "It's more important than anything else. You will learn this, and I hope that all of you will live this, too."

"If you don't like looking into a patient's eyes, you're in the wrong career. If you don't like holding their hand or finding out what ails them, don't waste your time here," Dave said.

Now in its 38th consecutive year, the internationally known program has educated more than 1,100 medical students from across Northwest Indiana and from several countries including Germany, Spain, Mexico. Nigeria and Macedonia.

The program invites aspiring doctors to study under established physicians for rigorous training in real-life hospital situations. This includes serving as a second assistant in surgeries, and other serious healthcare circumstances.

"When you study medicine, do it with passion," insisted Dr. Thach Nguyen, who co-directs the program each year. "It should not be a chore to study medicine. It should be a passion of yours. Use it to be a leader to pull everyone around you together."

This year's class of 31 students includes 13 third-year med students from Vietnam, who introduced themselves to the others in a customary humble, modest tone.

"Speak up! You need to be loud and clear," Dave told them from behind the podium in the hospital's auditorium, named in his honor.

The Vietnamese students, from Tan Tao University's School of Medicine, will learn critical thinking from different perspectives, and new sensitivities to other cultures, religions and gender issues.

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