6/20/18 | On Friday, June 15, 36 students in the Class of 2019 Physician Assistant Studies program filed in to the front rows of Schneider Auditorium. Thirty-six white coats hung on a rack on stage as families, friends, faculty and university leadership filled the auditorium, waiting for the start of a rite of passage for the medical profession: The White Coat Ceremony.
Traditionally held at the end of the didactic year and the beginning of the clinical year in which PA students treat patients in healthcare settings, this year’s ceremony was marked by cheers, pride, some solemn moments and pure joy.
“Today’s ritual, the donning of the white coat, gives our students, and really all of us, a moment to reflect on where we have been and where we are going,” said George Bottomley, director of the Center for Physician Assistant Studies. “It’s also a time to really celebrate your accomplishments and everything you’ve done so far in this program.”
The audience also heard from JWU Provost Lily S. Hsu, EdD, Medical Director Diane Siedlecki, MD, and Jonathan McKinney, PA-S and president of the Class of 2019.
Wear the white coat well, for it is a symbol of all that is good in our profession.”
In her remarks, Hsu spoke about the rigor of the program, the first in Rhode Island. “This has been a demanding and intensive year. You have had many late nights at the physician assistant center, spending probably more time with your fellow classmates than with your family and friends. But your family and friends stood by you throughout this past year because they, too, believed in the admirable goal you are striving to achieve.”
As one who lived it along with his fellow students, McKinney measured the challenges students faced in their first year by the amount of caffeine ingested. “This past year has been absolutely amazing,” he noted. “We’ve taken over 50 exams, studied over 20 different areas of medicine, and consumed more coffee than Starbucks serves in a decade.”
He also voiced appreciation for those who helped the class during their first year. “To our families and friends who have kept us sane, from the application process up until this present moment: you have been our source of encouragement when overwhelming feelings have started to kick in. To our faculty, for your support and passion to teach medicine and to truly foster our growth. All of you have been there for us at times of need. And for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude for your support.”
Before the donning of the white coats, Dr. Siedlecki presented the history and symbolism behind the jacket. White was not always the color of choice for the medical field, she said. “In the 19th century, black was the color worn by physicians — a serious and authoritarian color to represent the formal nature of the interaction between physician and patient. As medicine made advances in antisepsis and prevention of infection and bacterial contamination, white became the color worn. Many patients now view the white coat as a cloak of compassion, as the symbol of caring and hope they expect from the person who wears it.”
Many patients view the white coat as a cloak of compassion.”
Siedlecki closed her remarks with words of advice: “Remember, while the jacket distinguishes you as a student of the physician assistant program, and the insignia identifies you as a representative of Johnson & Wales University, it is you who brands it and creates the practitioner who wears that jacket. Wear it well, for it is a symbol of all that is good in our profession.”
As the PA students walked one stage one by one, faculty advisors Victoria Miller, PA-C, MT, CLS; Kellie Kruzel, PA-C, MSPAS; Ashley Hughes, PA-C, MSPAS; and Mallory Sullivan, PA-C, MSPAS took turns helping students don their white coats, to the audience’s cheers. They returned to their seats to recite the Physician Assistant Oath before adjourning to the Center for Physician Assistant Studies to celebrate — and to get ready for their clinical rotations to come.
The Center for Physician Assistant Studies has now graduated 81 students who are practicing in Rhode Island and throughout the country.
Watch the White Coat ceremony in its entirety below: