White Coat Ceremony marks start of lifelong journey for new medical students
For USF Health’s 170 new medical students, Friday’s White Coat Ceremony marked the beginning of a professional journey leading to careers in medicine.
For Ed Woodward, 39, the annual rite of passage culminating in the presentation of the white coat took on an added bittersweet meaning.
“The white coat means the culmination of a dream, yet the dichotomy of starting a journey all over again,” Woodward said. “I’ll be sitting in the same seats and walking the same halls as my brother did. I cannot let his legacy down by not being successful.”
Woodward lost his twin brother, Gene Woodward, a medical student at USF who was killed in an automobile accident involving a drunk driver in 2000. A few years later, the former Air Force fighter pilot was grounded by a stroke. Emerging from rehabilitation, he struggled with depression before finding a new goal to embrace after a heartfelt conversation with his grandfather.
“Finish what your brother started,” his grandfather said.
And so he began, finishing a master’s of medical sciences degree at USF last year and earning a select scholarship as a Tillman Military Scholar along the way, while waiting to be accepted into medical school.
“I actually told the interviewers if I got into Harvard and USF, I’d go to USF,” Woodward said. “It’s where my brother went, and he loved everything about this school.”
Friends and family of the incoming medical students packed the ballroom at the USF Marshall Student Center Aug. 15 to witness the MD Class of 2018 White Coat Ceremony, an emblem of the beginning students’ commitment to the profession of medicine.
Students filed into the ballroom two by two, led by Gregory Nicolosi, PhD, associate professor emeritus of molecular pharmacology and physiology, who wore a kilt and played the bagpipes.
The ceremony followed an intensive weeklong orientation course “Professions of Health,” during which the students learned some logistics about MCOM and participated in several activities, including working on cases, interacting in small groups, and presenting their findings at the end of the week.
Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president of USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, welcomed the group and asked for a moment of silence to honor the memory of the first member of the medical school’s charter Class of 1974, Dr. Karl M. Altenburger, who recently passed away. Dr. Altenburger — who built a successful career in allergy and immunology and served as Alumni Association president and president of the Florida Medical Association — was “a wonderful role model for our future doctors,” Dr. Lockwood said.
Dr. Lockwood thanked all the families present for their support of the new students, and gave special recognition to two sets of parents, Drs. Andrew and Carolyn Atkinson and Drs. Joseph Wassell and Stacia Poole. The four alumni have children who are members of the freshman class.
He also asked the white coat donors in the audience to stand for a round of applause. The donors, many of them faculty members and alumni, have contributed more than $52,000 for scholarships to help reduce medical student debt.
Then, Dr. Lockwood turned to address the students, the first MCOM class to enter since he joined USF Health.
“This is an amazing time to become a doctor,” he said. “You are part of a generation that will lead a revolution in knowledge and technology that will give us healing tools we never dreamt of. But, also a revolution in how we deliver health care – ensuring that the health care of tomorrow is higher quality, safer and less expensive for our patients.”
Slipping from his suit jacket into his doctor’s coat, he continued:
“When I take off my jacket and put on my white coat, people look at me differently. When a patient meets me, she is prepared to confide her deepest secrets and greatest fears,” said Dr. Lockwood, an obstetrician.
“Wearing this white coat confers great authority, but also great responsibility… Patients will turn to you in trust, and trust is the first step needed for a doctor to help heal a patient.
“Their needs must be at the center of all you do.”
Fourth-year medical student Trevor Lewis, president of the Morsani College of Medicine Student Council, spoke about humanism in medicine from a student’s perspective. He drew analogies between the white coat he wears as a medical student and the uniform he wore while serving in the Navy.
“Even as student learners, we play a crucial role in the profession of medicine and its reputation,” Lewis said. “The white coat is a uniform for humanism and healing… wear it as a badge of honor.”
And drawing laughter from the audience, he added: “But, please, for the sake of your patients and attendings, you are allowed to buy another one when this one gets worn.”
Robert Ledford, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine, was the final speaker. He was elected by the MCOM senior class to receive the 2014 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, which recognizes an exemplary faculty physician who embodies the principles of humanism and compassion.
“I don’t know that I can define humanism, but I know what it is when I see it. I can identify and feel its presence and bemoan its absence,” Dr. Ledford said.
Rather than attempting to define a concept that may differ among individuals, Dr. Ledford, instead, summed up what humanism is not.
It is not, he said, becoming so familiar with diseases and conditions that you forget the patient may be brand new to a diagnosis and frightened. Not anger at noncompliance at what you suggest. Not the fear that precludes trying something different. Not protecting your emotional vulnerability by maintaining distance from your patients. Not pride, or self-worth, or praise from patients or peers.
“Advancing technology, changes in healthcare systems and industry all swirl around the basic human interaction that is the foundation of medicine,” Dr. Ledford said. “Your emotional, mental and physical connection with your patients is (still) the very fabric of our community.”
“Be a caregiver. Be compassionate in the face of sorrow,” Dr. Ledford said. “Sit down to talk with your patients, and hold their hands when they need it. Respect their dignity and humanity.
“Give your patients the support they need to live their lives according to the values important to them.”
Finally, the ceremony’s long-anticipated moment arrived. The students took turns lining up in front of faculty members who helped them into their new coats. Then they shook their new dean’s hand. Nestled in the pocket of each coat was a note from the coat’s donor offering congratulations and inspiring messages for the recipient.
As the last student returned to his place on stage, the room full of family and friends erupted in applause, cheers and flashes from cameras. Wearing their crisp new coats, the entire class recited the oath of commitment to medicine – a promise to serve their patients well – led by Bryan Bognar, MD, MPH, vice dean for MCOM Educational Affairs.
Then, the students marched two by two out of the ballroom and downstairs to celebrate with family members and friends who followed.
Timothy Juwono, 22, was among the students who searched the mingling crowd — amidst hugs and kisses, laughing and tears, and countless presentations of flower bouquets – to find their loved ones. He spotted his younger brother, Jeremy, first and they popped into an impromptu cell-phone camera shot before joining his mother, father, aunt and fiancé. His family traveled from San Francisco to Tampa for the celebration.
Juwono was 13 when he visited his aunt and uncle in Indonesia, where they both work as physicians at a Jakarta hospital and run a primary care practice for underserved patients. That early experience of observing patient-doctor interactions firsthand inspired him to want to become a physician, he said.
“Medicine is a profession in which you can help individual patients improve the quality of their lives, but also have a direct impact on the community for the greater good.” said Juwono, who aspires to a career in pediatrics.
For Chelsea Wilson, 27, who practiced as a physician assistant before entering medical school, Friday’s white coat was not the first. While the PA experience may give Wilson a jumpstart on fellow students when clinical rotations begin, she says that the basic science courses consuming much of medical school’s first two years will be just as daunting for her.
“I’ll be studying hard with everyone else to help get us all through,” she said. “It’s very exciting to start on a new journey.”
After the ceremony, Woodward, 39, was joined by more than a dozen family members and friends, including in-laws and two commanders from his military days. Wife Manda, son Tylor, 7, and daughter Kayla, 8 months, remain his core support and will help him persevere as he works toward becoming a neurologist who can assist veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury.
He reflected on what his take-home message would be as the Class of 2018 prepares to tackle the challenges of studying more than they ever thought possible, rigorous examinations and clinical rotations.
“When I flew F-15s, I was so focused that I never stopped to take in how really amazing the whole experience was. Now, I wish I had one more flight to enjoy,” Woodward said.
“Even though medical school will be an arduous journey, what I’ve learned is that you need to stop every now and then to realize and enjoy what you are accomplishing.”
Class of 2018 stats
– Total # of students: 170
– 99 (58%) men, 71 (42%) women
– 42% represent students from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds, including students underrepresented in medicine (URM).
Source: USF Health Morsani College of Medicine Student Affairs
Sarah Worth, USF Health Communications, assisted with this article.
Photos by PhotosinMotion.net