A White Coat and Many Shades of Meaning for the Physician Assistant Class of 2022
“You will use them as libraries, filing drawers, supply cabinets, and pillows,” said David DiFilippo, DHSc, MSPAS, PA-C, Director of Didactic Education, of the crisp, clean white coats presented to the Physician Assistant Program Class of 2022 on April 9 – their long-awaited White Coat Ceremony at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine (LKSOM).
Thanks to the pandemic, last fall’s plans for a traditional, in-person White Coat Ceremony had to be scrapped. For safety’s sake, a ‘hybrid’ ceremony was held instead, with students and program leaders attending in person (practicing social distancing) and family and friends watching and listening online. The event was a big hit – thoroughly appreciated by students and their families.
David Isgan, MHS, PA-C, Director of Student Affairs, served as emcee, welcoming everyone. Christine Mount, MS, PA-C, Program Director, had words of praise for the resiliency the students have demonstrated. With COVID surging in Philadelphia when the program began, students had to pivot and adapt to sudden format and timing changes in the curriculum.
Gerald Sterling, PhD, Senior Associate Dean for Education and Continuous Quality Improvement at LKSOM, said the Physician Assistant Program is essential to the Temple mission and to healthcare’s mission. “You have chosen your profession wisely. And we have been wise in choosing you to train in it. There were many talented, accomplished applicants for your class and we selected only the very best: you and your classmates,” he said.
Dr. Sterling emphasized that although the Program is rigorous and demanding, “everyone in the Class of 2022 has what it takes to succeed: intelligence, maturity, ambition. What’s more, you have us, your faculty. We are here to guide and help you. Our first priority is to help you succeed,” he said. “And if the successes of the classes preceding you is any indication – and it certainly is – consider this: The average pass rate on the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam across the country is 90%. Temple’s pass rate is 100% for every graduating class to date!”
“At Temple, PA students benefit by training side-by-side with medical students, physical therapy students, pharmacy students, and students in other disciplines, “just as you will ultimately practice: as part of inter-professional teams,” he said.
Professor DeFilippo’s initial comments about the white coat were light-hearted, but had serious things to say about them, too. “White coats are cloaks of humility, compassion, and professionalism. Those who wear them take on a new identity,” he said.
Dr. Sterling also expounded on their meaning. “The white coat symbolizes the noble ideals of healthcare, the bond of trust between patient and provider; high standards for quality and safety; and commitment to professional behavior in every circumstance. And, remember: The white coat also symbolizes Temple’s confidence in you, your confidence in Temple, and most important, your confidence in yourself to be worthy to wear it,” he said.
Kierstyn Jeffries, MS, MMS, PA-C, an impressive and accomplished alumna of the Class of 2020, relayed an instructive tale from her own student days at LKSOM, a story that showcased a specific, heart-rending role for white coat wearers: the role of mandated reporter.
A patient she treated during her pediatrics rotation in the program was a little boy who bore signs of physical abuse. She knew that child welfare authorities must be notified. These calls are clearly in the child’s best interests, yet never easy to make. Jeffries consulted her faculty for advice and support — then did what she had to do.
“Those who wear the white coat are voices of advocacy and change,” Jeffries told the Class of 2022.
A highlight of the ceremony was of course the individual “coating” of every student, as Program Coordinator Christine Connolly announced each student’s name. At home, proud family members filled the Zoom “Chat” screen with exuberant comments like “Way to Go!” and “So proud!”
Before exiting the stage, each student approached the camera and microphone with air kisses and messages for loved at home. “Thanks, Mom and Dad, I love you,” many said.
As Erin Kilonsky, MS, PA-C, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, led the students in reciting the Physician Assistant Oath, eyes shone brightly over masks, with the meaning of this milestone in their professional journeys really sinking in.
Two final notes: The LKSOM Physician Assistant Program thanks the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for donating the “Humanism in Medicine” pins that adorn the students’ coats.
On March 26, 2021, John Daly, MD, FACS, Dean of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, suddenly passed away. The Class of 2022 dedicated its White Coat Ceremony to him.