Largest and most competitive: Incoming medical class makes history for USF Health Morsani College of Medicine [video]

Filing into the historical Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa, 183 new University of South Florida medical students smiled at family and friends as they walked on to fill the front rows of red plush seats. This year’s White Coat Ceremony, held Aug. 18, marked the beginning of the Class of 2020 for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM).

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USF Health’s incoming medical students file across the stage at downtown’s Tampa Theatre to receive their first white coats.

This particular group is making history.  It is the largest class in the school’s history and the strongest group academically to enter the college, averaging a record 34 on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) exam, the highest of all Florida public universities and a score that places MCOM above the 90th percentile for all students taking the exam nationwide.

In addition, this group represents the 183 students who were culled from more than 6,100 applications and successfully admitted to MCOM, also a record number.

And to top those historical points, to accommodate the increased number of students and their family members, this year’s White Coat Ceremony was, for the first time, held off campus at the downtown Tampa Theatre. This tipping point is a sign of the medical school’s transition to downtown Tampa, and an example likely to become more common, as both the Morsani College of Medicine and the Heart Institute remain on target to move to the Channelside district in 2019.

This milestone group will benefit from another record-breaking fact: student scholarship funds contributed by 186 donors, including 83 USF MD alumni, exceeded $107,000 for the White Coat Scholarship fund so far this year — a 14 percent increase over last year. Of that total, $97,000 will be used to create scholarships for the MCOM Class of 2020.

Before turning his attention to the students, Charles Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, recognized special guests Carol and Frank Morsani, thanked donors, and welcomed the audience of faculty, staff, alumni and students’ families and friends who packed the Tampa Theatre for the annual rite of passage. In addressing the students, Dr. Lockwood prepared the students for what is before them.

“This is an amazing time to become a physician,” Dr. Lockwood said. “We are all on a journey toward a very different and much better health care system — and era when health information will be abundant, accessible and transferable…We are committed to preparing you for this exciting but rapidly changing health care landscape by teaching you the knowledge, attitudes and skills you need to be caring, competent and safe physicians in the 21st century, allowing you to provide both personalized and community based health care, both high quality and low cost health care, and both high tech and high touch health care.”

“I know I can count on each one of you to build trust with your patients and deliver high value care,” Dr. Lockwood said in his address to the new medical students.

“I know I can count on each one of you to build trust with your patients and deliver high value care,” Dr. Lockwood said in his address to the new medical students.

“The white coat you receive tonight is not only a metaphor of the beginning of your journey as a physician, it is also a well-recognized symbol of compassion, of trust, and of understanding — a commitment to provide great patient care but also to accept great personal responsibility.”

Nakul Batra, fourth-year medical student and president of the MCOM Student Council, spoke about humanism in medicine from a student’s perspective, laying out his own experiences as an incoming student tackling a tough anatomy exam, as a third-year student facing surgery on a living human being for the first time, as a member of a health care team telling a patient a horrible prognosis, as a classmate confronting the stress of performing well and being able to turn to peers and USF Health administrators for support.  Batra urged the Class of 2020 to stay focused on the foundation of being a doctor, even though the profession of medicine and the health care system around them will change.

“We will not know the exact challenges in front of us, but it is almost a certainty that they will require us to develop ourselves as a community to be ever stronger and ever more dynamic,” Batra said.

Nakul Batra, president of the MCOM Student Council, spoke about humanism in medicine from a student’s perspective.

Nakul Batra, president of the MCOM Student Council, spoke about humanism in medicine from a student’s perspective.

“The modern incentives and structure of medicine can be bewildering and misguiding.  As you go through medical school and onto your careers, remember today.  Remember why you came to medicine and what you wrote in your personal statement.  Remember the values of medicine that have guided us for the last 2,500 years and remember the values that your family and friends have imparted on you.  The school will do its best to prepare you but the science and training can only take you so far.  So develop yourself: develop yourself into a team player, learn to be a leader of your health care team but also your community, take care of yourself and find the strength that best fits you and will make you the most content.

“Because ultimately when you strip away all the advantages of modern medicine, you are just a person in a clinic who will have taken an oath that is 2,500 years old, with some textbooks, some medicines and some instruments trying to help another person in need.  Congratulations and welcome to medical school.”

Kira Zwygart, MD, FAAFP, professor of family medicine and associate dean for the MCOM Office of Student Affairs, helped put into context the intent of the White Coat Ceremony.

“In the spirit of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, we hope to help our students provide humanistic care by empowering them to build collaborative and caring relationships with their patients,” Dr. Zwygart said. “Students, when you receive your coat, you will note that you have a gold pin on your lapel, which will stand to signify your commitment to the care and dedication to your future patients.  It will serve to remind you to treat everyone with equal respect, to actively listen to patients and families with the intent to learn about their values and needs, and to seek the best method of addressing their needs as you progress throughout your medical education.”

Dr. Kira Zwygart.

Dr. Kira Zwygart explains to significance of the White Coat Ceremony.

Michael Albrink, MD, associate professor of surgery and recipient of the 2016 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, spoke about the significance of the white coat.

“One accomplishment of the Arnold P. Gold foundation is the implementation of ‘White Coat Ceremonies’ throughout American medical schools,” Dr. Albrink said.

Faculty member Michael Albrink, MD, recipient of the 2015 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, spoke about the symbolic significance of the white coat.

Faculty member Michael Albrink, MD, recipient of the 2015 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, spoke about the symbolic significance of the white coat.

“In fact some 95% of U.S. medical schools have such ceremonies. Are such ceremonies necessary? Will they save any lives? Do they add anything to medical education? My answer to this is a resounding yes! When I was a medical student, there was no such ceremony. We simply took the white coat out of its plastic wrapper and put it on.  I felt a bit sheepish about wearing it as my medical knowledge was sorely lacking, and this anxiety is normal.  This coat is your ‘tool belt.’ You will carry in it many devices, stethoscopes, tuning forks, journal articles, Snellen eye charts, and the occasional sandwich or cookies. People will treat you differently when you wear this uniform. Please respect the white coat as your honor the profession.”

Each student in this MCOM Class of 2020 received a copy of “On Doctoring,” a compilation of poems, fiction and essays edited by John Stone, a physician writer, and USF Health’s Lois Nixon, MPH, PhD, professor in the Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities. The books are provided by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

After receiving their new white coats, members of the MCOM Class of 2020 recited the Oath of Commitment – a promise to serve their patients well – led by Deborah DeWaay, MD, FACP,  associate dean for MCOM Undergraduate Medical Education.

MCOM alum Dr. Jordan Messler tells the Class of 2020 that they will receive the last known copies of the book "On Doctoring"

MCOM alum Dr. Jordan Messler tells the Class of 2020 they will receive the last known copies of the book “On Doctoring”

MCOM Alum Dr. Sion "Bill" Carter is chair of the MCOM Alumni Association.

Dr. Sion “Bill” Carter, chair of MCOM Alumni Society, urged the future doctors to be inspired by their new white coats, and to be the most highly skilled, caring and compassionate physicians they can be.

Students recite their Oath of Commitment in unison, pledging to bring honor and integrity to the “privileged profession of medicine.”

Students recite their Oath of Commitment in unison, pledging to bring honor and integrity to the “privileged profession of medicine.”

And now medical school truly begins for the Class of 2020.

And now medical school truly begins for the Class of 2020.

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The White Coat Ceremony was attended by two of the USF medical school and university’s most passionate advocates and friends Carol and Frank Morsani.

Among the new USF medical students embarking on the lifelong journey of learning that a career in medicine embodies:

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Nadia Khalil and Sabrina Khalil: These twins have lived and attended school in the Tampa Bay area their entire lives. Even choosing USF – and MCOM’s 7-year MD track – kept them local. Both were on the USF cycling team and took most of their pre-medical courses together. Now the two are part of the Class of 2020, and their nearly constant lifelong parallel paths are already including experiences that separate them. As part of the Core MD program, they were asked during their first week to choose a focus in the Scholarly Concentrations Program, an academic elective program for students to focus on areas of interests beyond the medical school core curriculum. Nadia chose engineering. Sabrina chose nutrition, the program’s newest offering. And both are already defining specialties that will send them to different residencies. Sabrina and Nadia will be the first doctors in their family.

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Ryan Johnson: With dual undergraduate degrees in biology and nutrition, Ryan knows his career in medicine must include a way to use nutrition to impact his patients’ lives along with the other sciences he learns in medical school. Looking ahead to areas of medicine he might specialize in, Ryan says he has decided to be undecided for now, and to look at what he likes to do and then find a field that matches. Ryan is part of the SELECT MD program, a leadership track within MCOM that includes the first two years at the USF Tampa campus and the second two years at Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, PA. The program helped make USF his first choice – not only for its focus on leadership, but also because those second two years would put him closer to home and family in New Jersey. Ryan will be the first doctor in his family.

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Carla Hasson: Watching her family’s pediatrician care for her sick younger brother – even making house calls for the boy’s many medical needs – drove home the point that doctors make huge impacts on families. That memory of how much that doctor did for her brother and how much her parents trusted her led Carla to aim for becoming a physician herself – a vision that only temporarily paused as she excelled in creative writing, saw her own poetry published, and edited a literary magazine for her high school. She was born in South Africa and lived there until age 9 when her family moved to Miami. With double undergraduate degrees in biology and public health, Carla enters the Class of 2020 with a goal of being the first in her family to become a doctor, which follows being the first in her family to earn a college education.

Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications