Excerpt from Duke-NUS Graduation & Hooding Ceremony (Class of 2014) keynote speech by Prof Robert J Lefkowitz, 2012 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.

There is something I do not hear much about these days: the importance and power of experiencing your life’s work as a calling. In terms of my own experience, I have been remarkably fortunate to have felt a calling to two careers in Medicine: first as a physician, later as a scientist. 

As a youngster, one of my role models was my family physician who made house calls. From about the third grade on, I never had any doubt that I was destined to be a physician, just like him.

To me, becoming a member of the medical profession was something very special in that one was privy to very special knowledge and also bore unique responsibilities. I thoroughly enjoyed my four years in medical school, my years as a house officer at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York, as a cardiology fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and as a young Professor of Medicine at Duke. These experiences felt perfectly right for me. 

During the early years of my training I had never really considered that I might become a scientist. But a two-year experience at the National Institutes of Health in the late 1960’s began to change all that. After a very slow start, I began to show some promise at the bench. But it would take another five to seven years before it would become clear to me that my primary mission, the focus of my life’s work, would lie in the laboratory rather than at the bedside.

“I do not believe that for any individual there is necessarily only one possible best choice.”

One of the wonderful things about a career in Medicine and the other health professions, on which all of you now embark, is that the journey has so many possible itineraries and so many possible destinations. 

I think that there are several important elements in this notion of a calling. First is the simple power of belief in what you are doing, and of its importance. This will empower you to achieve, perhaps, more than you had ever imagined possible. The second is the conviction that you were really meant to do this and that the work fully engages the best of your own innate talents and abilities. And the third is a sense of enthusiasm for and optimism about what you do. These latter elements are quite infectious. 

 If you are able to tap into this notion of a calling, you will be fortunate indeed. For it holds the key to a career characterised by fulfillment, contentment and a sense of accomplishment. The simple secret is, you just have to believe in it.

Read the full speech online http://bit.ly/TMlefkowitz