Medical students welcomed at White Coat Ceremony

August 11, 2017

Student receives her coat from a professor during the medical school's White Coat Ceremony

Ola Oluaderounmu grew up in Nigeria — a childhood and a world away from becoming a doctor.

But ‘Ola,’ as he likes to be called, never let that dream fall through his fingers — even when he came to the United States and had to repeat his undergraduate studies.

On Thursday, along with 95 other first-year students enrolled at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine, Ola slid his arms into a white coat for the first time.

And he couldn’t contain the joy. None of them could. A stethoscope and a smile were the perfect accessories at the TD Bank Sports Center.

The White Coat Ceremony marks the beginning of four years of rigorous study to earn a doctor of medicine degree for the members of the Class of 2021. The School of Medicine graduated its first class of doctors in May.

“It’s a very emotional day for me. All my efforts led to this,” said Ola, one of 10 children. “I’m so happy that I’ve been given this chance to achieve my dreams.”

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a very young age. I came to this country hoping to go into medicine right away, but because of the different educational system, I had to go back to school and do my undergrad all over again,” said Ola.

Mark Thompson, executive vice president and provost, described the White Coat Ceremony as the “first major milestone” in a medical student’s career.

Dr. Bruce Koeppen, dean of the School of Medicine, urged the new medical students to forge their professional identities with compassion, duty, honesty, integrity, respect and professionalism.

“If you do this right, your professional identity becomes integral to who you are, not just as a physician but as a person,” he said. “Your professional identity cannot be put on and taken off like your white coat.”

Dr. Margaret Bia, a renowned kidney transplant nephrologist and a professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, gave the keynote address. Bia started her career as a self-described “token female” at the Cornell University Medical College. After two years without any patient contact and a “rampant” culture of sexism, Bia found her passion. “When I got to the clinical years, I thrived, I thrived, I thrived. And that’s when I fell in love with medicine and being a doctor.”

Dr. Lisa Coplit, the school’s associate dean for faculty development, declared the white coat a “powerful symbol and a symbol of power” and spoke of its late 19th-century roots to signify medicine, healing and trust.

Twenty percent of the Class of 2021 was born in another country, said Mark Yeckel, associate dean of admissions. Ola is one of those medical students. Galaxy Cho is another.

Cho was 10 years old when she immigrated to the United States from Korea. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Columbia — and teaching English to kids in rural China, among other assignments — Cho walked off the stage Thursday eager to begin her next chapter.

“I took a lot of time off between college and going to medical school. It’s been a long journey,” said Cho. “But I’ve always known that I wanted to help people. That’s why I want to be a doctor, so I can really advocate for patients.”

Cho knows her name will be a great icebreaker with patients.

She explained that her parents named her Galaxy in Korean first. They translated it to English after the family settled in Southern California.

“They just thought it was a pretty name. I do too. I think it’s a beautiful name — very unique and very memorable,” Cho said.

The significance with the White Coat Ceremony was not lost on Cho. She and the Class of 2021 enjoyed a very unique and very memorable day Thursday as first-year students at the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine.

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