Incoming Brody School of Medicine student Pooja Sarin is helped into her white coat by Dr. Susan Schmidt, associate dean for Student Affairs. All 80 new students received a white coat as a gift from the BSOM Alumni Society to recognize their induction into the Brody medical alumni family. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

White Coat Ceremony kicks off medical education for 80 new students

Aug. 14, 2015

By Amy Adams Ellis
ECU News Services

Eighty students were donned with white coats and officially welcomed to the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in an Aug. 14 ceremony that celebrated the privileges and responsibilities associated with a medical education.

“The physician’s life is one of leadership and service,” Dr. Elizabeth Baxley, Brody’s senior associate dean for academic affairs, told the students. “Your goal must be to care and to cure. The white coat represents your promise to do so.”

During the ceremony – the 15th annual ceremony of its kind at Brody – incoming students crossed the stage one by one to receive their white coats embroidered in purple with the Brody logo. The coats were a gift from 80 Brody alumni – ranging from the Class of 1973 to the Class of 2014 – and one faculty member. As each student was “coated,” he or she was handed a note of encouragement or advice penned by one of the alumni.
Dr. Jonathon Firnhaber

Keynote speaker Dr. Jonathon Firnhaber, associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine, welcomed the students to the “society of medicine” before humbly and humorously outlining some metaphorical properties – and faulty expectations – associated with the white coat.

“The white coat you’ll put on today is magical,” he said. “From this day forward, you will never be the same. When you’re wearing your white coat, people will tell you things that they’d never tell the average stranger standing in line at the grocery store…Everything has changed.”

Firnhaber went on to say the white coat should never be used as a shield when students make a mistake.

“The fact that you are allowed to wear that coat dictates that you take personal responsibility for your actions or omissions, make amends and press on – determined to not make the same mistake twice,” he said.

Firnhaber asked the students to join him in repeating the phrase, “I’m just a medical student” – in order to “get it out of your systems,” he said – because it’s never an acceptable response.

Brody School of Medicine

Class of 2019

  • All 80 students are North Carolina residents. They were selected from 982 applicants and represent 25 counties of residence, from Buncombe in the west to Perquimans in the east, and 22 different undergraduate institutions.

  • The class is 51 percent male and 49 percent female.

  • Ages range from 19 to 37, with the average being 24.

  • Thirty-one percent (25 students) are non-Caucasian.

  • The class boasts an average undergraduate 3.6 GPA. And while 29 students majored in biology, there are also business, religion, history and foreign language students in the class of 2019. Fourteen students completed graduate coursework, and they averaged a 3.9 GPA.

  • Thirteen students in the class of 2019 are children of doctors. One is the child of two Brody School of Medicine graduates. 

  • Students will earn an M.D. degree at the Brody School of Medicine before going on to residencies – additional years of medical training – in various specialties.

  • The first two years of medical school are classroom-based and encompass basic sciences, ethics and exposure to primary care and doctoring. Year three consists of a series of predetermined clinical clerkships, and the fourth year allows for more individualized clinical experiences. Much of the clinical training occurs away from Brody in rural health care settings across eastern North Carolina.
He implored them not to shy away from trying to answer difficult questions and addressing patient concerns.

“You have a responsibility; you are a doctor-in-training - or a student doctor - but you are not ‘just a medical student,’” he said. “Your white coat is not a cloak of invisibility.”

Led by third-year medical student and Medical Student Council chair Kevin Harris, the students recited the Medical Student Pledge of Ethics before greeting their families with hugs and cheers.

First-year student Emma Wutschel, joined by five family members, said she’d been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Seated during the annual White Coat Ceremony, from left, are Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean;  Dr. Elizabeth Baxley, senior associate dean for academic affairs; Dr. David Collier, president, BSOM Alumni Society; Dr. James Peden, Jr., associate dean for admissions; Dr. Susan Schmidt, associate dean for student affairs; and third-year medical student Kevin Harris, chair, Medical Student Council.

“It became real this week,” she said. “I’m glad I made the choice to come here, where I’m surrounded by people who will encourage and support me. The next four years will be tough enough without being in an environment that’s cut-throat and competitive.”

Her classmate Amber Whitmill, whose parents and husband attended the ceremony, said, “I do have a little bit of anxiety, but I’m definitely proud and excited – and so thankful for my parents for helping me get this far.”
Incoming Brody medical students recite the Medical Student Pledge of Ethics during the ceremony.

The last student to cross the stage was Wesley Yang, whose mother and sister came from Charlotte to celebrate with him.

“I’m excited; I’ve been looking forward to this all week,” Yang said.

“Brody is a nice place to be. It’s not a joke when you hear people say that, at Brody, you feel like you’re part of a family.”

Mickey Miller of Kernersville, the mother of first-year student Leslie Miller, seemed to be on the verge of both laughter and tears. 

“I’m so proud,” she said. “This day is the realization of a dream for all of us.”