On Saturday, 7th January 2017, Trinity School of Medicine’s January incoming students donned their first white coats at a ceremony held at the school in Ratho Mill, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Dignitaries included Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves and other community officials.
The first rows look on as their fellow students move through the ceremony
The white coat ceremony is a rite of passage for new medical students that has its origins at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker Medical School and is now a fixture at many institutions. Associate dean of admissions, Dr. Frances Jack, introduced the students to the fundamental obligation that each of them was making a commitment to become and remain proficient in the science and technique of medicine, as well as the human obligations of life as a physician, namely patient care.
Stacy Meyer, vice president of enrollment at Trinity, spoke on behalf of the school’s president, Steven Wilson. She congratulated the students on the significant achievement of being selected to enter medical school and extolled their diversity of pasts and perspectives as each came together to join this class with the same goal.
“It gives me as much joy now as it will give me in four years’ time when I will be shaking your hands at your graduation. It’s wonderful, it’s amazing to look at this incoming class that is so small and so incredibly diverse!” She noted that some students were from St. Vincent, while others were from all over the United States, Canada, and even Nepal. She continued, “There are students who came from extremely large state universities, from various small private colleges, from the Ivy Leagues. Some of you are coming directly out of your undergrad while others have taken time to follow other career paths: real estate, teaching, tutoring, small business ownership, we have it all here.”
Ms. Meyer continued, “You all have so many things in common, though: determination, drive, and desire to pursue becoming a physician and helping others at crucial times, in critical ways. You each decided that you would not be satisfied with anything less than your medical degree, and for this I absolutely applaud you.” She acknowledged that emotion would be running high but cautioned that no one was alone with those feelings on such a momentous occasion.
Every student expressed similar sentiments on the significance of the coat’s symbolism to their career at the point of being robbed of it. Additionally, upon listening to Dr. Jack’s presentation on the origin and purpose of the coat, students reported that it was a great reminder of why they had chosen medicine.
One new student, Allyssa Haywood, had this to say: “I like the practice of donning the white coat because, from the very beginning, it helps us to focus on our goals, to know why we’re working on them and to keep those perspectives in mind. For me, it signifies the beginning of my journey. The white coat is a symbol of my future commitments: to help people, to be of service to them.”
Another student, Chelsea Travis from North Carolina agreed, “[The white coat] reminds me to take my profession seriously every day, and it’s such an honor! To me, it means that not only does someone think that I’m able to handle responsibility, but it also makes me look back at those who came before me and all of those who are supporting and pushing me forward, knowing the road that is ahead.”
Raed Odeh (pictured left) from New York City felt that the white coat plays a very significant role in the life of a medical student. He noted, “I see the medical profession like any other career. If I was working for a construction company I wouldn’t get my uniform to work at my retirement or at my promotion. I would want my uniform at the beginning because although I may not be a technician, I’m still part of the team that gets the job done. So, as medical students, we are doctors in training. We will be working along with the actual licensed physicians, residents and fellows, and we will want our patients to know that although we are not doctors yet, we are a part of the team.” The future doctors were, by this point, reserved but clearly affected by their excitement.
The ceremony made their next steps in education that much more concrete. Somaera Choudhary from Maryland beamed, “The white coat means everything to me: my life, my career, family, friends, a better future, better opportunities, a better understanding of people, and a better understanding of myself as a person; empathy, understanding, caring, and compassion. I know it’s cliche, I know every medical student says it, but I just want to help people in their time of medical need. I want my future patients to have a long healthy, happy, exciting life. The white coat is a symbol of my commitment and the school’s faith in me. It means so much.”
The ceremony wrapped up with a Trinity tradition, a message to the new students from recent graduates. The new students all felt that Trinity was the place they wanted to be and the white coats on their shoulders were the best symbol that they intended to uphold. Afterward, the students and their families joined the faculty for a reception at the nearby Paradise Beach Hotel.
New student Chelsea Travis had one final thought, “Choosing Trinity took a lot of faith but I feel like I’m in the right place, right where I’m supposed to be. I feel like there are things I’m supposed to learn and gain in this environment but I also feel there are things that I’m supposed to share. I’m honored and grateful to be here and I’m truly looking forward to everything coming our way.”