Medical Class of 2021 receives white coats at special ceremony

For Bianca Arboleda, who was born in Florida and raised in Puerto Rico, getting into medical school was quite the journey.

Arboleda, who wants to become an obstetrics and gynecology doctor, faced many cultural and language barriers before coming to USF. But, she never gave up.

“I always knew I wanted to become a doctor,” Arboleda said. “So, I am beyond grateful to be an MD student at USF. Every obstacle I encountered along the way, gave me the courage to do better and study harder to make my dream a reality.”

Bianca Arboleda receives her white coat.

Arboleda was one of 173 medical students to take the oath of commitment and receive the coveted white coat in front of families, friends, guests and USF Health leaders – marking the beginning of a remarkable journey into the MD program at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM).

Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, poses with a group of students from Class of 2021.

The White Coat Ceremony, held this year on Sept. 1 at the Tampa Convention Center, is an annual event that welcomes students to the prestigious MD program at USF Health MCOM.

“This is a surreal experience, I’m in medical school,” said Cannon Nelson, who came to USF from Salt Lake City, Utah, and wants to become a pediatric neurosurgeon. “To us, the white coat is the symbol of transition, responsibility and commitment to a greater cause that’s bigger than any of us. It took a lot of work to get here, so being a part of this event today makes it all worth it.”

Cannon Nelson, student in the Class of 2021, is excited to celebrate the big day with his entire family, who flew in from Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Class of 2021 brought in the most selective medical student cohort in the history of the program — with an average MCAT score of 514 — placing it among the top 25 of all medical schools in the country.

This group of students was selected among more than 6,400 applicants – also a record number — giving them a less than three percent chance of getting into the program.

“It feels absolutely amazing to be among such a talented group of students,” said Katie Reming, student from the class of 2021, who wants to go into internal medicine. “No matter how challenging the road ahead may be, I feel so incredibly grateful for this opportunity and to be surrounded by such supportive faculty, staff and fellow students.”

During the event, Charles J. Lockwood, MD, MHCM, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine, welcomed the students to the MD program with an inspirational speech about the future of health care and the challenges the field faces ahead.

Dr. Lockwood speaks to students, families and guests. 

“The future of our nation’s health care belongs to those who are unafraid to challenge the status quo, unafraid to think deeply about problems and unafraid to embrace change,” Dr. Lockwood said. “Decades from now, when people look back on this time in health care, my hope is it will be said of all of you that you were the forward-thinking generation of physicians who did not postpone addressing these great challenges – you embraced them. Your generation leveraged tools such as precision medicine, the mining of ‘big data’, cutting edge tissue imaging, and telehealth to improve health while lowering costs.”

This year, the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine Scholarship Fund –the beneficiary of funds raised to sponsor the white coats — was the most successful and largest white coat sponsorship program of all medical schools in the U.S., raising more than $100,000 towards the Class of 2021 scholarships.

“I’d like to thank our faculty, staff, alumni and members of the MCOM Alumni Society Board for their unwavering support in sponsoring white coats for this year’s class,” Dr. Lockwood said. “We are committed to increasing scholarship funding and I’m deeply grateful to all of you who have donated to our White Coat Scholarship fund – you are supporting an amazing group of students.”

City of Tampa Mayor, Bob Buckhorn spoke to the new students during the ceremony and welcomed them to the city of Tampa.

City of Tampa Mayor, Bob Buckhorn.

“This is an exciting time for USF, an exciting time for Tampa and an exciting time for all these young people,” Mayor Buckhorn told the crowd. “This is a city that’s risen from the worst recession since the Great Depression. This is the city of hope, the city of destiny and a city where young people are flocking to. For those of you who will spend four years with us, you are in the midst and part of an amazing renaissance American city. We want you to make Tampa your home when you complete this journey. I promise you this that you’re going to learn to love this place.”

Rose Tillis, a current fourth-year medical student and president of the MCOM student council, spoke to the new students about humanism in medicine and the responsibility of wearing the white coat.

“All of you have a gift,” Tillis said. “It’s a gift of intellect, compassion, motivation and determination, and a decent amount of stubbornness. That’s how you got here. But that gift comes with the responsibility to give back. And that’s what you’ll learn while you’re here. You have the ability to change the trajectory of your patients’ lives, just by walking with them in the hallway. That’s what this white coat represents, and that is the responsibility that comes with it.”

The Class of 2021 also 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.

To conclude the special evening, the new students recited the Oath of Commitment — a promise they make to the health care profession and their patients.

“This is an important milestone in the journey of becoming a physician,” Reming said. “In some ways it’s celebratory, recognizing that all of the hard work involved in getting to this point has paid off. At the same time, I think it also symbolizes a transition from living life as a regular member of society, to becoming part of the health care profession, which necessitates a higher standard of behavioral expectations, has ethical implications and includes social responsibilities.”

Ameyo Jereen, student from the Class of 2021, is excited to finally wear her white coat.

“This is a celebration of the start of a difficult but rewarding journey in which we will learn intricate details about our bodies, our minds and our society,” said Ameyo Jereen, student from the Class of 2021, who wants to go into neuroscience. “I am very excited and honored to partake in this ceremony to mark the start of this wonderful journey.”

Arboleda celebrates this important milestone with her parents and siblings.

Among the Class of 2021 medical students receiving a white coat was Madeline Carney, shown here as a baby held by her mother Nancy Murphy at Murphy’s USF College of Medicine graduation ceremony in 1996. As she was walking off stage with her new white coat, the now young adult Carney shared a hug with Associate Vice President and MCOM Obstetrics and Gynecology Professor Dr. Catherine Lynch. “I haven’t seen you in a while, I delivered you,” Lynch told her.

Story by Vjollca Hysenlika and photos by Eric Younghans, Sandra C. Roa and Frederick Coleman, USF Health Communications and Marketing