School of Medicine Class of 2022 welcomed with White Coat Ceremony and Convocation

Incoming students officially join the School of Medicine and presented with their first white coat

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Students are officially welcomed to the School of Medicine by receiving a personally-embroidered white coat.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The University’s Medical Alumni Association hosted the White Coat Ceremony and Convocation Friday afternoon for the University’s School of Medicine Class of 2022, where 156 incoming students walked across the stage at Old Cabell Hall in front of faculty, family and friends. The School of Medicine Class of 1965 endowed the event, providing each student with a personally-embroidered coat as part of an annual effort to ensure that all students receive their first white coat free of charge.

Barry J. Collins, executive director of the Medical Alumni Association and Medical School Foundation, said physicians started wearing white coats at the turn of the twentieth century when the profession became more scientific in its practice and dress. He also clarified that the white coat is more than just a symbol of professionalism, but also in keeping with the Hippocratic Oath.

“The lab coat is the symbol of the healer … and white is the color of hope,” Collins said during the ceremony. “The white coat reminds physicians to lead lives and practice their art with respectability and honor and it also welcomes those embarking on medical careers by giving them a powerful symbol of compassion and honor.”

The audience also had the opportunity to hear the perspective of a current University medical student, Brielle Gerry, the president of the School of Medicine Mulholland Society. During her speech, Gerry elicited several chuckles from the incoming students and their families as she taught a lesson on the anatomy of the white coat.

“First of all, appreciate that the white coat is white,” Gerry said. “You will get food and bodily fluids — either patients’ or your own — on it, so if you have never used bleach in your life, today is the day to ask your family how to use it.”

Gerry then counseled the students to remember the greater significance of their white coat.

“Every time you wear your white coat, you are representing the School of Medicine and our wider U.Va. family,” Gerry said. “Wear it with pride and confidence, even if you have no idea what you are doing, because patients will look to you as if you know what you are doing.”

That advice was reiterated in part by David S. Wilkes, dean of the School of Medicine, who also reminded students to place the safety and comfort of patients first and foremost. His speech emphasized the importance of seeing and listening to patients and acknowledging their humanity by looking them in the eye or holding their hand, and by letting them feel seen and heard. 

“Do not forget the patient is a real person who is frightened, confused, and uncertain and relies on you to fix on whatever is wrong,” Wilkes said. “The patient is the center of all of which you are doing now and what you will do throughout careers.”

Following Wilkes, Deans Meg Keeley, John Densmore, Christine Peterson and Sean Reed of the four colleges in the School of Medicine and Dean Kedes, director of the Medical Scientist Training Program, presented each of the students with a white coat, who thereafter signed the honor pledge.

Andrew Walsh
Students signed the University's honor pledge during Friday's ceremony. 

The ceremony ended much as it had began, highlighting the role of the student and physician to maintain integrity as he or she learns and grows in the knowledge of medicine. Students and their teachers recited the School of Medicine’s Covenant for the Entering Class and Their Teachers, which echoed many of the same sentiments embodied by the white coat. 

“As I begin my study of medicine, I acknowledge and accept the responsibilities and privileges of an apprentice learner of ancient art and modern science,” the covenant reads. “I affirm fidelity to my patients, and will respect them, their choices, and their confidentiality. Mindful of my privileged access to their bodies, selves, and stories, I will seek to earn their trust and to care for them with skill, understanding, compassion, and fairness.”

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