A new coat for the journey

USF’s largest class of first-year medical students enters a profession on the verge of revolutionary changes in health care

The largest incoming class in the history of the USF College of Medicine was welcomed into the profession at Friday’s White Coat ceremony.

Marching to the front of the Marshall Center Ballroom to the sound of bagpipes, the 139 students took their places at chairs that each held a neatly folded crisp white coat.   The coat represents the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning – a commitment to the profession of medicine that will both stretch their limits and provide unlimited opportunities for growth.


“The white coat is more than just a symbol that you’re ready to start medical school,” said Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health.

“When you wear that white coat, there will be people who put their trust in you like they would no one else,” he said. “When they look across at you, patients expect that you will do what’s best for them. Not necessarily the best thing for your organization or what’s the most cost beneficial, but what’s best for them.”

Despite uncertainties over healthcare reform, Dr. Klasko told the students they are entering medicine at a time when advances in biotechnology and the promise of personalized treatments tailored an individual’s genetic makeup will lead to revolutionary changes in health care.

“It is the most exciting time to be a doctor,” he said.

Each of the white coats for the Class of 2015 was purchased by contributions from medical faculty, staff or alumni.

It’s a journey that will ideally be marked as much by compassion and caring as discovery, so the new students were addressed by a senior student and faculty member who gave their perspectives of humanism in medicine.

“Any doctor can become proficient at treating disease,” said Joshua Roe, a fourth-year student and president of the College of Medicine Student Council, “however, it takes a humanistic physician to understand and treat how the illness affects the patient as a whole.”


Joshua Roe, president of the College of Medicine Student Council, and Dr. Kira Zwygart, associate professor of family medicine, gave their perspectives on humanism in medicine.

“As you don your white coat today and meet your first patients as student physicians in the months to come, please remember that whatever a patient brings you, you can learn a new perspective,” said Dr. Kira Zwygart, assistant professor of family medicine and this year’s recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award. “You can create a special connection that will help you identify the best way to meet that patient’s needs.”

It’s a journey made possible by the support and encouragement of family and friends who helped get the students to medical school.   And by the connections with faculty and staff who will be with the Class of 2015 along the way to commencement.

Rachael King puts on her first white coat.

Each coat pocket contained a personal note to the student who will wear it from a medical faculty member, staff member or alumnus. More than $15,000 was raised by these sponsors this year to purchase all the first-year white coats and in support of student scholarships.

Before reciting an oath of commitment to medicine, the student lined up in front of faculty members who helped them into their new jackets.  They tugged as the sleeves and smoothed the lapels, a few stopping on their way back to their seats to pose for a quick photo by a proud parent or sibling waiting on the sidelines.

Then all 139 students stood in their new coats for a final round of cheers and thunderous applause before filing out of the standing room only ballroom.

The new students recited an oath of commitment to medicine.

For Nayantara Orekondy, following in the footsteps of her grandparents, both physicians, has been a lifelong dream.   Drs. Geeta and Mallikarjun Udoshi rushed to find and congratulate their granddaughter at the packed reception following the White Coat Ceremony, joined by Orekondy’s parents, aunt, cousins and a friend.

“I remember when I got into medical school how excited my grandfather was,” said Dr. Geeta Udoshi, a retired internist. She recalled that only about 10 percent of students in her medical school class in India were women.

Dr. Mallikarjun Udoshi, an associate professor of cardiology at The Commonwealth Medical College in Pennsylvania, recognized his granddaughter’s hard work and persistence and credited Nayatara’s parents for helping make her dream of medical school a reality.  “We were the inspiration; they were the perspiration,” he said.


Ready to begin the journey

Rachael King, 23, took a nontraditional route to medical school, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in anthropology before completing USF’s interdisciplinary medical science master’s degree.

“Wow, it’s surreal,” said King, trying to put her feelings about what the white coat represents into words. She was flanked by mother Patricia Johnston and father Randolph King, who had traveled from Jamaica to celebrate his daughter’s milestone.

“I want to become a doctor, and I’m actually here in medical school,” she said. “I’ve worked so hard to get here… I can’t believe I’ve made it.”

Then with a smile that light up her face, she added, “There’s a long way to go, still.”


The family of medical student Nayantara Orekondy (top, third from left)

Student Trish Phuong Dinh celebrates with her daughters, Kilani (left) and Kalina.


• 139 students – 79 men and 60 women
(Includes 19 inaugural students from SELECT MD program, a partnership of USF College of Medicine and Lehigh Valley Health Network)

• Combined overall undergraduate GPA – 3.7

• Thirty percent of the class represents students from ethnically and racially diverse backgrounds, including students underrepresented in medicine (URM)

Source:  USF College of Medicine Admissions Office

Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications