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With new white coats, medical students dedicate themselves to the needs of others

Ceremony marks rite of passage for School of Medicine Class of 2019

By Lisa M. Larson

UMass Medical School Communications

September 11, 2015
  • Karen Green, MD, the 2014 Chancellor’s Medalist for Distinguished Clinical Excellence, with SOM student Elena Stansky, whom she delivered 25 years ago.
  • Pang-Yen Fan, MD, Mai-Lan Rogoff, MD, Nidhi Chojar, MD and Christine MacGinnis, DO, prior to the 2015 White Coat Ceremony.
  • Students of the Blackstone Learning Community gather for the White Coat Ceremony processional.
  • 2015 Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service recipient Thoru Pederson, PhD, leads the processional.
  • SOM Dean Terence R. Flotte delivers a personal reflection.
  • Learning Communities co-directors Michael Ennis, MD (left) and David S. Hatem, MD, set the stage.
  • Cynthia A. Ennis, DO, helps Timothy Arjun Baloda with his new white coat.
  • Marian Younge dons her first white coat.
  • Maxine Dudek of Blackstone House awaits her turn.
  • Quinsigamond House mentor W. Peter Metz, MD, with Katherine Elizabeth Mallett.
  • The White Coat Ceremony is full of iPhone moments.
  • Students recite the Oath of Maimonides.
  • John S. Sullivan of Quinsigamond House.
  • Chancellor Michael F. Collins (far right) with Kayla R. Elliott of Blackstone House and well-wishers.

Proudly cloaked in new, crisp white coats, 125 members of the School of Medicine Class of 2019 celebrated their official debut into the medical profession at the White Coat Ceremony on Friday, Sept. 11, as family, friends and faculty cheered them on.

Keynote speaker Karen Green, MD, professor emerita of obstetrics & gynecology, and recipient of the 2014 Chancellor’s Medal for Clinical Excellence, gave the students some advice from her perspective as a grandmother.

“Have respect for your patients, coworkers and faculty. They are Mr., Mrs. or Dr.—unless they ask that you call them by their first names,” said Dr. Green.

“The most successful student is self-motivated, curious and excited to come to learn and to work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t know something, say so. Then look it up. Try to balance your home life and take care of yourself. Your four years will go by really quickly if you find a way to enjoy the journey.”

Green’s message held special meaning for first-year student Elena Stansky and her mother, Mary Ellen Stansky. Green delivered Elena 25 years ago at UMass Memorial.

Chancellor Michael F. Collins welcomed the class into the UMMS community and explained the meaning behind the tradition of the white coat.

“The white coat which you will soon don is an apt and appropriate metaphor for such an important transition upon which you are embarking. To wear this white coat means you have chosen to dedicate your lives to the needs of others,” Chancellor Collins said in his welcoming remarks. “As stewards of this great public medical school, we’re so pleased to welcome you into our medical community and to guide you toward a career of learning and caring for others.”

School of Medicine Dean Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, provost and executive deputy chancellor, shared a personal story of what his own white coat meant to him and his family at the time of his mother’s passing. Dr. Flotte said his mother, Marie, had dementia for years, and was in the final hours of her life in a New Orleans nursing home, surrounded by her grown children, when his siblings asked him to monitor her condition.

“I listened to her heartbeat and respirations and when they ceased, I kissed her forehead and told them she was gone,” he said. “We were all sad but it was so peaceful. We were just grateful for the wonderful life she had. The point of the story is not the passing of my mother but the dramatic shift of who I was and what role I was playing in that situation. I had gone there as Marie’s son, the youngest at that, but my siblings needed me to assume the professional role as a physician.

“The point is that you are called upon to go beyond yourself and be what your patients and their families need you to be. In my case, I had the privilege of wearing the white coat for my family.”

The White Coat Ceremony is a modern tradition initiated in 1993 by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, which most U.S. medical schools now celebrate. First held at UMass Medical School in 2010, the White Coat Ceremony has become a meaningful and joyous event for School of Medicine students and their families, and the faculty mentors.

At the ceremony, each student is assisted in putting on the white coat by their Learning Community House mentor and a significant person of their choosing. Donated by members of the recently graduated SOM Class of 2015 in a symbolic “passing of the torch” to the next generation of medical students, each coat is embroidered with the student’s name and adorned with a pin representing their Learning Community house. Inside the coat pocket, these first-year students will find a slip of paper with the name of the student who donated their coat. They will also find a card with the name of their faculty mentors. Both are reminders that they are not alone on this challenging journey.

The ceremony closed with the students reciting the Oath of Maimonides. 

See a video of the full White Coat Ceremony here.