Medical school welcomes Class of 2023 at annual White Coat Ceremony

August 09, 2019

Faculty cloak students in white coats

Early in her medical education, Dr. Lindsey E. Scierka learned that a patient is a person, not just a collection of organ systems and pathologies. That lesson serves her well as she progresses through her residency at Yale New Haven Hospital, and it’s among several lessons she shared on Aug. 8 as the keynote speaker at the White Coat Ceremony for the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine’s Class of 2023.

Scierka’s advice was all the more meaningful because she received her white coat exactly six years ago as a member of the Netter School’s inaugural class, which graduated in 2017. She assured the 95 members of this class that the most valuable parts of her training at Quinnipiac were not the lectures or the clinical rotations, as exceptional as she remembered them to be.

“The most valuable aspect of my training was the type of physician I was trained to be,” the Quinnipiac graduate said. “I was taught not just the science of medicine, but the art of patient-centered communication. I learned to approach a patient holistically and to respect patient autonomy. I learned how to conduct a clinical encounter with empathy and honesty. I learned to pay attention to what affects a patient physically as much as how it affects them emotionally. Over the next four years, you will learn this as well.”

During the ceremony in the People’s United Center on the York Hill Campus, Netter faculty helped the students — chosen from 7,701 applicants — slip into their white coats and presented them with stethoscopes. They also recited the Hippocratic Oath with faculty and heard remarks from Quinnipiac President Judy D. Olian, PhD; Bruce Koeppen, MD, PhD, dean of the School of Medicine; Lyuba Konopasek, MD, senior associate dean for education; Traci Marquis-Eydman, MD, Medical Student Home Program director; and Mark Yeckel, PhD, associate dean for admissions.

Olian told the students they will be working here with many other members of the health professions. “You will be better prepared to function in teams, to understand the sociology of needs of underserved groups, and to understand where medicine meets the law or intersects with biology and engineering.”

She pointed to the worsening profile of mental health in the country. “The tragic consequences of this trajectory — which are especially evident among younger generations — require particular skills, expertise and compassion that medical professionals of the past didn’t have to draw on to this extent, or necessarily be adept in.”

Olian also noted that a similar radical trajectory of change is evident in another area — data analytics — and the promise offered through sophisticated understanding of the disruptive advances available in medicine and many other fields.

“You, the doctors of the future, will need to be those discerning consumers of data analytics in diagnosing and treating patients, using the most sophisticated understanding of current analytic insights into disease,” she said, adding that the impact of climate change will challenge medical professionals to respond to its consequences, such as treating severe allergies, respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular conditions due to increased air pollution and wildfires, or Lyme disease and food insecurity.

“Those other aspects of your learning — the interdisciplinary, the behavioral and psychological, the legal, sociological, data analytic and environmental aspects — will position you to be the physician who ministers fully to the patient, who knows when and how to draw on other professionals in health, scientific, social scientific and technological fields, and who recognizes that the complex decision-making of medicine rests on exploitation of a team’s know-how,” she said.

In his address, Koeppen reflected on what it takes to be a great physician. He said possessing knowledge and impeccable clinical skills would classify one as good, but maybe not great.

“I believe, and I am not alone in this belief, that what distinguishes good from great is ‘humanism,’ ” he said. He explained that humanism, as it applies to the practice of medicine, is the application of medical knowledge and clinical skills that take into account the emotional, social and cultural needs of the patient and his or her family.

“You will not learn humanism from a textbook. Rather you will learn it by observing and working with mentors and role models who embrace humanism in their work and clinical practice,” he said. He urged the future physicians to find their own mentors at the medical school who make humility, responsibility and adherence to the highest professional standards part of everything they do.

James Danahey, MD '23, of Denver, was among the students listening intently. He related that he and his partner, Joie Akerson, also a member of the Class of 2023, were thrilled to be chosen by the same school and particularly one that aligns with both of their personal and professional goals.

“I aspire to lead a high-performing medical team that is committed to alleviating disease through the compassionate and holistic treatment of patients,” he said. “While I am drawn to surgery, I am open to the insights that Netter will offer.​”

Akerson said she is interested in family practice with a focus on addiction medicine but is also open to new experiences. Danahey was a former clinical research coordinator while Akerson worked at a mental health startup in Chicago.

Mercedes Forster, MD '23, an Australia native and San Diego resident interested in primary care, was impressed that students and faculty at Netter seem to genuinely care about social determinants of health in underserved populations and about devising methods to treat vulnerable populations. “I’m not sure any other medical school I interviewed at could say the same,” she shared, adding,

 “I know Netter will prepare me to be a kind and competent physician of the future.”

Yeckel noted that the class is composed of 32 men and 63 women who come from 19 states. He said 20% of the students were born or grew up outside the U.S. — in Bangladesh, South Korea, India, Iran, the Ukraine, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Lebanon, Cuba, Romania, Pakistan, and Poland. Another 25% were born to parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Armenia, India, South Korea, El Salvador, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, Germany, Ghana, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Cyprus, Nicaragua, Syria, the Philippines, Palestine, Japan, Uruguay, Russia and Cuba.

“We have a more experienced and mature class than most schools; the average age at the time they submitted their application was 25, which is higher than the national average of 23,” Yeckel said.

Elana Taute, MD '23, who was born in South Africa and lives in Wisconsin, said diversity and inclusion were values she observed during her Quinnipiac interview process. She served four years in the U.S. Army on active duty before becoming a registered nurse and continuing with the Army reserves.

“As a non-traditional student, I feel welcomed, heard and seen,” Taute said. “Through opportunities such as the pre-matriculation program, it is clear that the Netter School of Medicine invests and supports student success.” She is drawn to emergency medicine and will be practicing in a military capacity.

Regardless of their chosen specialty, the future doctors heard Scierka emphasize that patient-centered communication is a skill they need to hone. She will serve as chief resident at Yale next year and plans to pursue a fellowship in cardiology.

“I still use this form of communication in almost every patient encounter, and it has set me apart from physicians trained at other medical schools,” Scierka noted.

“Besides gathering the necessary clinical information, it’s essential to respond to the patient emotionally. I remember my MeSH preceptor’s favorite quote from Maya Angelou: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ ” 

Scierka predicted that the coats the students donned today will go with them to lecture halls, anatomy labs, clinics, hospitals and operating rooms across the country, pockets jammed with books, physical exam tools, patient lists and pens.

“Today your coat is pristinely white, but over the years it will collect markings of where you have been — coffee stains, leaky highlighters, blood, sweat and tears. More important than your physical white coat is what it represents. It represents your role as a learner, a teacher and a healer. And this is the white coat that you will never take off,” she said.

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