University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine white coats hang on racks in anticipation of the White Coat Ceremony. (Photo: UVM Larner College of Medicine)
Vermont Business Magazine No one knows better than healthcare professionals that the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic are far from over, but for University of Vermont medical students in the Class of 2025, there is a silver lining amidst the havoc wreaked by the Delta variant: They will have loved ones present when they receive their first white doctors’ coats.
The UVM Larner College of Medicine is holding a traditional, in-person White Coat Ceremony on Friday, October 8, at 1 p.m. in UVM’s Ira Allen Chapel. Guests are limited to two per student and all participants are required to wear masks, per UVM policy. The event will be livestreamed so that those not in attendances can enjoy the ceremony. Due to pandemic restrictions, the 2020 White Coat Ceremony was largely a virtual event – guests could only view the ceremony remotely and students were required to put their white coats on themselves.
This year’s ceremony will open with a welcome from Larner College of Medicine Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education Christa Zehle, M.D., followed by remarks from Larner College of Medicine Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., and UVM Medical Center President and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Leffler, M.D.
Devika Singh, M.D., associate professor of medicine, infectious disease specialist and 2021 Faculty Recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, will present the Humanism in Medicine Keynote Address.
Interim Associate Dean for Admissions Nathalie Feldman, M.D., and Interim Assistant Dean for Students Mariah McNamara, M.D., M.P.H., Interim Assistant Dean for Students Justin DeAngelis, M.D., Alumni Association President Omar Khan, M.D., Connecticut Campus Assistant Dean for Students Ellen Kulaga, M.D., and Interim Associate Dean for Students Lee Rosen, Ph.D., will participate in the cloaking portion of the ceremony.
First-Year Medical Students Bring Rich Backgrounds to Medical Journey
Among the 124 first-year medical students who will be receiving their first white coat on October 8 are a former investment banker, Baltimore, Md., teacher, global health, health equity advocate, and a community college
Elizabeth "Liz" Kelley, of Shoreham, Vt., had a career in investment banking prior to pivoting to medicine. Kelley, who gained respect for the field as a patient with multiple sports injuries and sister of a Larner alum now specializing in gynecologic oncology, admits she "wanted to pursue a career that focused on helping others." She
believes that in "receiving the white coat, there comes a sense of responsibility to our future patients – that we are committed to learning how to provide the best care to all people, and that we recognize it is a privilege to care for others."
Jasmine Bazinet-Phillips was born and raised in Baltimore City, Md., but enjoyed skiing in Vermont’s Mad River Valley growing up. She served as a Teach for America educator in her hometown following graduation from Colby College and was inspired by her mother – a longstanding Baltimore City public school teacher and former PeaceCorps volunteer – who demonstrated the value of commitment and duty to students and families. “In the classroom, the inequality I saw seemed almost insurmountable,” says Bazinet-Phillips. “Many of my students and families did not have access to adequate healthcare or nutrition, which directly interfered with learning,” she adds. Fueled by this experience, she decided to pursue medicine.
Gabriela Sarriera-Valentin is a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the youngest of six children, and a UVM undergraduate alum. She says she “was always intrigued by the idea of studying medicine,” but spent time doing advocacy and educational work in Rwanda with a pediatrician and current vice chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, in Boston with Partners In Health, and volunteering at a queer bookstore before returning to Vermont and UVM for medical school.
Justin Henningsen is a scientist and mandolin player originally from Brookings, S.D. About four years ago, he moved to Worcester, Vt. with his wife and children. Despite earning a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and doing postdoctoral research at Texas A&M, he says “I didn’t think that medicine was the right field for me.” Over time, he admits, “helping others in a direct way and building community have both become much more important to me.” Experiences teaching biology and anatomy & physiology classes at the Community College of Vermont and working part-time at his local hospital and shadowing physicians “convinced me that medicine was for me,” he says.
At the end of the ceremony, members of the medical Class of 2025 will be led by Larner Dean Page in reciting “The Oath.”
Each student's white coat has a Humanism in Medicine lapel pin provided by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a keepsake copy of The Oath provided by the UVM Office of Primary Care, and a White Coat Note, a message of encouragement for each medical student written by a Larner College of Medicine alum, tucked into the pocket.
About the White Coat Ceremony
Initiated on August 20, 1993 at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, this annual ceremony or a similar rite now takes place for first-year medical students at about 90 percent of schools of medicine and osteopathy in the United States, and is supported by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation. According to the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the White Coat Ceremony helps establish a psychological contract for the practice of medicine.
Physicians dressed in black until the late 19th century, due to the association of black attire as formal. Physicians adopted the white coat as a symbol of purity at the beginning of the 20th century.
(Source: Mark Hochberg, M.D., “The Doctor's White Coat—an Historical Perspective,” American Medical Association Journal of Ethic’s Virtual Mentor website, April 2007)