While UConn Health’s White Coat ceremonies were held on Aug. 21 with social-distancing precautions, not even a pandemic could stop the incoming Class of 2024 from being celebrated with the time-honored tradition.
With only medical and dental students in attendance, along with the few faculty members participating in the ceremonies, students entered the Academic Rotunda in staggered groups and one-by-one received a new, bright white coat symbolizing the start of his or her medical or dental school journey to become a future, trusted healthcare provider.
During these COVID-19 extraordinary times, the medical and dental schools made sure to live-stream the special ceremonies to students, faculty, family and friends, along with the UConn Health community, who could not attend this year’s ceremonies in-person like years past because of the pandemic and social-distancing needs.
“This is a milestone in your career. All that hard work has paid off,” shared UConn School of Medicine Dean Dr. Bruce T. Liang, in his address to the 110 new medical students with some in the Academic Rotunda while the others virtually watched from nearby auditoriums. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen healthcare providers such as our own waking up each morning heading to care for COVID patients while putting themselves at risk of virus exposure. As a future healthcare worker, you will be our heroes as you go into medicine to serve and lead. It is not just a career but is a calling.”
“It is my absolute pleasure to welcome all members of the Class of 2024 into the School of Dental Medicine, into the UConn family, and into the dental profession,” shared UConn School of Dental Medicine Interim Dean Dr. Steven M. Lepowsky in his address to the 50 new dental students. “I extend my heartiest greetings to the friends and families of our students who are joining us virtually; we wish that you could have been participating in this wonderful event in person, but maintaining the safety, health and well-being of everyone remains our priority. I am confident that we will have opportunities to celebrate together in the future.”
The important symbolism of a white coat was in focus at both the dental and medical ceremonies.
“The white coat is a symbol of the trust society places in you as healthcare providers,” shared Lepowsky. “This is a great responsibility, but we have tremendous confidence that you are up to the challenge. The white coat is but a symbol of humanism, ethics and professionalism. These are traits that you wear from within – all of the time – not just when you have the article of clothing on.”
“The White Coat ceremony was designed as a way to welcome new students into the medical profession,” said Dr. Melissa Held, associate dean for medical student affairs. “This iconic ritual really provides an important emphasis on compassionate, collaborative, scientifically excellent care from the very first day of training.”
Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for dental students agrees. “The White Coat ceremony emphasizes the privilege of being a healthcare provider. Having the dental students begin their journey with this symbolic tradition is special for us as faculty and for them as a welcome into the profession. We look forward to watching their development as professionals.”
Sarthak Bothra, 22 from Fairfield, studied biology at UConn before heading to its medical school. “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor since a little kid,” said Bothra. “I already love the people and place, and excited to continue my medical education.”
Incoming dental student, Jerry Gargano, 28, of Branford is very excited to start his dental school journey after graduating from Bryant University with a business degree and two years of post-baccalaureate studies at UConn Storrs.
“It is going to be an educational experience unlike any other,” said Gargano. “For me, my white coat symbolizes a giant leap into becoming a dental professional. Starting dental school during these times is exciting and beneficial. It is beneficial because there are so many new learning opportunities in health care right now. It is exciting because we as students in health care get to learn how professionals in our field are managing the pandemic, and we get to contribute our knowledge.”
Gargano said: “I chose UConn dental primarily for the sense of community that I know lies within the students, staff, and alumni here. Students are closer to each other here than other Universities; and the same can be said for professor’s relationships to students as well as the alumni community. I am excited that dental school is going to be so hands-on.”
First-year medical student Abigail Boursiquot, 23, grew-up in Stratford but is from Canada where she graduated from McGill University with a degree in microbiology and immunology. “I am so happy to be back in a place closer to home. I love that UConn medical school has clinical integration right from the start, and it also has a greater sense of community.”
Boursiquot says, “This white coat is not just for me but my family. I hope that I can have a lasting impression on my community.”
First-year dental student Tyler Hailey James, 22, was born in the U.S. and grew up in Saudi Arabia. As a graduate from UConn she chose its dental school for its strong commitment to diversity. “I chose UConn Dental for its supportive community and well-rounded academic curriculum. I also admire UConn’s commitment to diversity in all aspects of the institution, which will allow me to grow and learn from classmates and mentors.”
Incoming medical student Abeid Anslip of Hartford attended UConn as an undergrad and is proud to become a “double husky.”
“I’ve been a frequent participant of the HCOP pipeline programs which gave me my first exposure to clinical medicine and led me here today,” said Anslip. “Thank you to the HCOP office and Dr. Hurley.”
All new UConn Health medical and dental students are required to wear masks while on campus along with returning students. In addition to being issued stethoscopes, new students also have each received face shields should they need to be closer than 6 ft. to carry out their clinical patient care training experiences. They will experience a hybrid learning experience, a combination of in-person campus learning and virtual coursework. Classrooms that allow for limited capacity and social-distancing requirements will be used.
Classes officially kick-off on Aug. 31.
“We are making sure that we provide physical distancing between each other and appropriate mask use to keep each other safe,” stressed Held, associate dean for medical student affairs.
And what is it like starting medical school during a pandemic?
“It’s challenging to meet new people, but it’s all we’ve ever known so it’s hard to compare to,” said Bothra, SOM Class of 2024. “I look forward to meeting my classmates and getting started!”
“I am so thankful that we are able to come to campus, even if it is for a short while,” said James, a dental student.
Interim Dean Lepowsky applauded the incoming dental school class. “You represent 50 of the finest, most talented, and accomplished students anywhere – period. Class of 2024 – you are the future of our profession and we could not be in better hands!”
Dean Liang said: “As you embark on this first stage of medical training, remember your commitment to one another rowing in the same boat towards being the best that you can be in the future.”
Leelakrishna Channa, first-year medical student from Glastonbury, has been dreaming of UConn Health since a child.
“Growing up I remember driving on I-84 and just looking up at UConn Health,” shared Channa with his SOM classmates. “Looking up at it in some kind of wonder and just thinking of it as a city on a hill. I am so proud to be here and it’s an honor to be part of this class.”
New medical student Patrick Bogui happily shared, “I love using my gifts and talents to serve others. This ceremony today is very special for me as I get a chance to embark on a journey to do just that!”
Missed the White Coat ceremonies? Watch the replays:
Aug. 21 at 10:00 a.m. UConn School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony
Aug. 21 at 1:00 p.m. UConn School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony