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Emotional ceremony marks first white coats for School of Medicine Class of 2023

Theo Meyer tells medical students to focus on compassion, empathy and humanism

By Lisa M. Larson and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

September 13, 2019
  • Members of the School of Medicine Class of 2023 gather before the White Coat Ceremony.
  • Each student carries the white coat they will don during the ceremony.
  • Chancellor Michael F. Collins welcomes students, faculty, family and friends to the ceremony.
  • Dean Terence R. Flotte reflects on the significance of donning the coat.
  • Theo Meyer, MD, PhD, delivers the keynote address.
  • Jenna Lansbury is cloaked in her white coat by her mentor, Lisa Gussak, MD, and her father, William Lansbury
  • Saranya Sita Ramadurai is assisted by mentor Samuel Borden, MD, and Suhatha Ramadurai, MD.
  • Eghosa Enabulele (center) with his brother, Osemwengie Enabulele, and mentor David Hatem, MD.
  • Students close the ceremony by reciting the Oath of Maimonides.
  • A jubilant Catherine Dickinson celebrates with classmates.

The 162 members of the School of Medicine Class of 2023 at UMass Medical School were cloaked in the symbol of the medical profession at the White Coat Ceremony on Friday, Sept. 13, under a tent on the campus green.

Keynote speaker Theo Meyer, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and recipient of the 2018 Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Clinical Excellence, delivered the keynote address, offering advice to the first-year students as they begin their journey. He encouraged them to consider the role of compassion and empathy as they strive to become “a consummate and complete physician.”

“May this ceremony and celebration today lay the foundation for a transformative journey in medicine,” Dr. Meyer said. “May your blind spots disappear so that you can see. May your level of attention help you to hear and connect. May your touch and proximity to the patient fill you with compassion, empathy and humanism. May your experience and humility bring you wisdom. I am passed my mid-career. I love being a physician. May you love what you do so that it brings you joy.”

The White Coat Ceremony originated with the late Arnold P. Gold, MD, at the Columbia University Medical Center in 1993. He was a pediatric neurologist who dedicated his life to compassionate patient care. Dr. Gold created a namesake foundation to inspire young physicians to take a humane approach to patient-centered care and held that first White Coat ceremony to emphasize humanism in medicine at the start of medical education. The tradition was adopted by medical schools across the country.

At UMass Medical School, the white coat is placed upon each student’s shoulders by individuals who represent the value system of the school and the new profession into which these students are about to enter. Each student is cloaked by her or his Learning Community mentor and an individual significant in his or her personal or professional development.

“The White Coat Ceremony is for me a public testament to the work I’ve put in so far and also, more importantly, the support that I’ve had from my family, my spouse and my community,” said School of Medicine Class of 2023 member Chloe Young of Colorado. “It’s a celebration for all of us to have a symbolic culmination of that teamwork.”

Chancellor Michael F. Collins said the event emphasizes the importance of scientific excellence and compassionate care for the patient.

“To wear this white coat means you have chosen to dedicate your lives to the needs of others,” said Chancellor Collins. “As stewards of this great public medical school, we are so pleased to welcome you into the medical community and to guide you toward a career of learning and caring for others.”

Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Issac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, told students that the white coat and the oath that they take as future physicians are “signs of commitment.” He said they are vowing to commit to their patients.

“Just as during an engagement, during medical school we are committed to our patients. Although not yet fully assuming the responsibility of the physician, we are stepping into the physician’s professional role whenever we interact with patients and families. Those interactions must be undertaken in the spirit of humility and commitment to the basic welfare and the basic autonomy of our patients to make their own decisions in their lives,” Dr. Flotte said. “The commitment could be stated succinctly as this, that when we are with a patient, our role is to ‘be what they need us to be’ in that moment. What they need us to be, not what we want to be.”

After donning their new white coats, the Class of 2023 recited the Oath of Maimonides.

For Rochester, Mass., native Nathan Taber, “Having the white coat as visual representation of starting the process of becoming a doctor is an exciting moment in my career—I’m here!”