White Coat Ceremony Marks Symbolic Moment for Physician Assistant Students
Standing outside Temple University Hospital’s Erny Auditorium, minutes before she and her 31 classmates headed inside for the Lewis Katz School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program White Coat Ceremony on September 17, Alyssa Alu was keenly aware of the moment’s symbolism and significance.
“I’ve visualized this day since my freshman year of college,” she said. “I used to watch YouTube videos of people crossing the stage to get their white coats and think, that’s going to be me some day. And now it finally is.”
For the members of the class of 2023, the White Coat Ceremony represents an important transition, a significant milestone in their education. It means they are about to begin applying their medical knowledge in clinical settings.
“In other words,” said Interim Katz School Dean Amy J. Goldberg, MD, FACS, during her remarks to the Class and their loved ones in the audience and watching online, “you begin participating in actual patient care.”
“Few things are more rewarding and humbling than interacting with patients: the work you will do with them, the care you provide, and the trust they place in you.”
Dean Goldberg told the students that she remembers how nervous and excited she was to begin interacting with patients in medical school – and then again as a Temple as a resident (“Yes, she said,” this is where my career began.”)
“But quickly I learned that being at Temple made all the difference. What tremendous guidance and support I received from my program directors, faculty, and staff. And you will too.”
Dr. Goldberg went on to discuss the significance of the white coat in her address.
“The white coat identifies you as a professional of unparalleled responsibility. And a Temple white coat means even more. It signifies your membership in a medical family widely known and respected for superior clinical skills, compassion, and social conscience,” she said.
For the first-year students participating in the ceremony, the Ceremony solidified their decision to pursue their degree – a profession in high demand and central to the direction health care is taking – and to get their training at Temple.
Zobaku Acholonu says she chose Temple largely because of the reputation Dr. Goldberg spoke of.
“My sister graduated from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine in 2019, and she talks so highly of the education she received,” said Ms. Acholonu. “Between that and the ways that Temple prioritizes giving back to the community, I felt it was the perfect fit for me.”
Gimena Calderon, similarly, was compelled by the school’s diversity statement. “The work that the school is doing in underserved communities really resonates with me,” she said.
In her comments, Program Director Christine Mount, MS, PA-C, congratulated the students on their hard work and dedication – warming them with a bit of encouraging truth and levity -- half-joking that in the days ahead their white coats would become many things to them, including a library, filing cabinet, supply closet, lunchbox … maybe even a pillow and a blanket.
Though none of that should detract from the white coat’s greater meaning.
“Above all else,” Ms. Mount said, “the white coat symbolizes the power of healing and great responsibility.”
In delivering the alumni reflection during the ceremony, Tiffany Piatt, MMS, PA-C, a 2020 graduate of the Physician Assistant Program, encouraged the class of 2023 to strive for compassion in every patient interaction.
“Diversity is deeper than our experience. Every community is multifaceted,” said Piatt, who identified herself as a Latina and the daughter of an immigrant.
“Today is a very symbolic moment because it encapsulates all of our efforts in our first few months of PA school,” said Caesar Bankole, who did a short dance onstage after a faculty member donned him in his white coat – a coating the faculty repeated with pride for all 32 members of the Class.
“I think we all recognize that today marks our introduction to the field, and that everything we do from this point will be heightened,” Mr. Bankole said.
After all the students were coated, the ceremony ended with Jennifer Windstein, MS, PA-C, Director of Clinical Education for the Program, leading the class of 2023 in the Physician Assistant Oath. Then the students turned to face the audience and enjoy its resounding applause.