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The Class of 2017 Welcomed to Medicine at Annual White Coat Ceremony

Friday, November 08, 2013

 Dr. Bolgiano welcomes his daughter to the profession of medicine by presenting her with her white coat.

Medical Family Day was held on November 7, 2013 at the Hippodrome Theater. This special event, which was sponsored by the Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, gives family members of first-year students a glimpse into what medical school is really like for the students. It is capped off by a ceremony welcoming the students to the field of medicine by presenting them with their first white coat. “The White Coat Ceremony is a rite of passage. It symbolizes the beginning of your transition into the noble and privileged profession of medicine,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean of the School of Medicine. “It is, however, so much more than a mere ritual for the privileged. For, to whom this great honor and privilege is given, your service, compassion and high ethical standards are expected in return.”

Before the coats were given out, families were educated a bit about the medical school experience. David Mallott, MD, associate dean of Medical Education, presented “What to Expect the First Year of Medical School,” in which he frankly told the families they would not be seeing much of their students in the next few years (unless, of course, there is a meal involved). “Being a med student is a full-time job,” he explained, stressing that students could only do that job well if they had the support and understanding of their families.

The families also had the chance to ask questions of a panel of medical school experts – Donna Parker, MD, Associate Dean for Student Affairs; Sandra Dolan, PhD, Director of Academic Development in the Office of Medical Education; Mindy Atlas, Chair of the Medical Family Annual Fund (and mother of a third-year medical student); Paige Luneburg, MS-IV, Vice President of the Class of 2014; George Fantry, MD, Assistant Dean for Student Research and Education; and Neda Frayha, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. Atlas also explained to the families the importance of the Medical Family Annual Fund, which helps students take advantage of educational opportunities they might otherwise not be able to afford.

Luneburg later spoke specifically about what the white coat means to a student. “The White Coast ceremony is an initiation into the ranks of medicine,” she said. “I remember what it felt like three years ago, when I sat where these students are now sitting, so relieved to still be among my classmates after 10 weeks of anatomy.” Student white coats are short, in contrast to the ones worn by certified physicians. “The length discrepancy symbolizes our knowledge level. But as our training persists, the length of our coats will grow. During that journey, you will realize that becoming a doctor isn’t so easy. There will be tears, there will be frustration, there will be fatigue. Most importantly, though, there will be success and the joy that comes from learning how to take care of others.”

Dr. Frayha, who was chosen by the students to give the faculty presentation, encouraged the students to never lose sight of that joy. “As long as the physician and patient encounter matters, I think the White Coat ceremony will be a part of our tradition,” she said. “With all the changes in medicine, all the new technology, physicians are still here, because that encounter matters. When a patient is sitting one-on-one with a doctor, they don’t care about any of that other stuff, they just want the doctor to help them get better and feel better. That is the power that you have. Hold on to your passion and your compassion as much as possible as you get older. Even if you have bad days – and you will – you need to find the strength to put on a kind face for the patients for whom you are caring.”

After the family information sessions came the event every first-year had been waiting for – the White Coat Ceremony. This tradition, which started at the School of Medicine in 1997, formally presents first-year students with their white coats, long the symbol of physicians and scientists, after they have completed their first course in medical school -- Structure and Development (aka Anatomy). The coats are put on by School of Medicine faculty, to welcome their junior colleagues to the profession of medicine. “It feels good, reaching this first milestone and having the satisfaction of knowing we’ve gotten this far,” said student Zain Moosvi.

Some of the faculty were equally excited, especially Edward Bolgiano, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, who got to put a coat on his daughter Mary. “It’s a very special day,” he said. “It’s hard not to be emotional. At this stage of my career, I was profoundly touched by Dean Reece’s words about what medicine should mean to her generation.”

Once they received their coats, students recited an oath acknowledging their acceptance of the obligations of the medical profession. They also added their signatures to the school's honor registry, a leather-bound book provided by the Medical Alumni Association that is signed by all our medical students in their first year, in which they pledge to maintain integrity throughout their years in medicine.


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 Students sign the Honor Book, overseen by Larry Pitrof, president of the Medical Alumni Association.

 Faculty put the white coats on the students. Dr. Adam Puche (center), teacher of their first course, gets the loudest reaction from the audience.

 Dean Reece shakes hands with each student after he or she recieves a coat.

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