Dr. Philip Baker’s speech to graduating medical students at the University of Alberta was partly ‘lifted’ from Stanford University’s Dr. Atul Gawande’s to graduates last year about overcoming adversity. Reactions from students have ranged from indifferent shrugs to utter indignation.

Dr. Baker, an obstetrician-gynecologist, has been dean at the University of Alberta since 2009.

In a letter of apology to students, Dean Philip Baker admitted that much of the content of his speech was similar to Gawande’s 2010 speech. He wrote:

“When I was researching for the speech, I came across text which inspired me and resonated with my experiences. Throughout my professional career and private life I have held myself to the highest ethical standards possible. The talk was intended for a private audience, nevertheless, my failure to attribute the source of my inspiration is a matter of the utmost regret. And, while there is no excuse for the lapse in judgment which occurred on Friday evening I can only offer my sincere and heartfelt apology.”

During Baker’s speech some students thought they were hit by a déjà vu when they recognized his words as coming from somewhere else – especially the term “velluvial matrix”. Medical school graduate Sarah Fung and colleagues immediately started searching in their smartphones. Eventually one of the attendee’s brother found Gawande’s speech in the New Yorker in the middle of Baker’s address.

Velluvial matrix is a fictional term Atul Gawande, a surgeon and journalist created. The term illustrates to students that there is always another medical term to learn. He said “You never stop wondering if there is a velluvial matrix you should know about.”

Deb Hammacher, a representative of the University of Alberta, said the college will launch an investigation.

In an interview with CBC news, medical student Jonathan Zaozirny said:

“It was a phenomenal speech. I was very impressed with the speech. It was very eloquently given and reflected very well on the evening.”

The speech was virtually copied verbatim, minus a few small alterations regarding Medicare in the USA and a couple of other points. Zaozirny said it was a bit of a shock. He said even the style of delivery and pauses were almost identical to Gawande’s.

The speech mentioned one of his children becoming ill, his wife’s medical problems, details on a patient; very personal things. Students described it as a great story – the only problem was that they had happened to somebody else. Had Baker attributed the details to the original speaker students say it would not have been an issue.

Brittany Barber, class president wrote on behalf of the students:

“The University of Alberta medical school has given us tremendous academic support and has worked hard to provide a program of educational excellence. To realize all this hard work may be marred by this unanticipated incident is very disheartening to the students. People should know that we will not stand for this academic dishonesty, and our deepest wish is that this incident does not reflect poorly on the integrity of our class, the medical school and, ultimately, the university.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist