In the 1997 sci-fi movie, Men In Black, Agent J, played by Will Smith, is told by his boss, Zed, portrayed by Rip Torn, that the black suit he’s being handed is “the last suit you’ll ever wear.” While the coats handed out on Friday, Aug. 20 to 110 students from UConn’s School of Medicine and to 52 School of Dental Medicine students won’t be the last they’ll ever wear, they certainly will wear white coats for many years to come. These iconic garments are emblematic of the journey each student is taking, the commitment they have made, the support they’ll receive from their respective medical programs at UConn, and their future careers.
The two ceremonies, held in Keller Auditorium on the Farmington campus, were streamed live for family, friends and the UConn community, and were recorded for those who couldn’t watch it live. The students were praised by Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. Steven M. Lepowsky, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, and several guest, faculty, and alumni speakers.
“This is yet another milestone in your journey, which I am sure you will always remember and treasure,” Liang said. “You are drawn to this selfless and altruistic profession to care for the ill. As we are still in the Covid-19 pandemic, your calling has a special meaning.”
Liang spoke to the challenges of dealing with the pandemic, and how faculty and students played important and selfless roles in helping out on the front lines. He also addressed the significant learning curve facing students, and the importance of diversity at UConn.
“Biomedical knowledge in aggregate nearly doubles every 73 days,” Liang observed. “There will be more for you to learn, changes, new diagnostics, drugs, therapies. But one thing that will be constant is that your patients will always appreciate your compassion and empathy. At the SOM,” he added, “we have continued to teach and strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion among medical students and in our graduate medical education. While the science of medicine will evolve and continue to develop, the art of practicing medicine has not and will not change.”
In welcoming the dental students, Lepowsky reflected on the School’s competitive reputation and challenging selection criteria.
“I congratulate the members of the Class of 2025, for not only choosing one of the finest and most rewarding health professions, but for choosing to start your professional career with us,” Lepowsky said. “You should be very proud of the incredible achievements that you have made on your way here. You represent 52 of the finest, most talented, and accomplished students anywhere – period. Suffice it to say that for each and every member of the Class of 2025, there were 25 other people who wanted the exact seat that you are sitting in right now.”
The dean spoke about the history of the white coat tradition, which began in 1993 at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The message communicated at that time, he explained, was that by donning the white coat, individuals agreed to provide the highest standards of ethical care to patients and strive to meet the wellness needs of society.
“UConn Dental held its first white coat ceremony shortly thereafter in 1997 – and the message was the same and it holds true today: the white coat is a symbol of the trust society places in you as health care providers – trust that you will be a lifelong learner, a compassionate and empathetic professional, and an engaged member of the dental community contributing to the well-being of others. This is a great responsibility, but we have tremendous confidence that you are up to the challenge.”
Below are some reflections on the occasion from newly-minted white coat wearers at UConn:
Medical student Ryan Hannon is from Cheshire. He attended Northeastern University, where he majored in cell and molecular biology, with a general music minor.
“As I was reflecting this week on the symbolism of the white coat, it fully hit me how significant this day will be for us students, and the gravity the ceremony holds,” Hannon observed. “I think the White Coat ceremony is a beautiful pivot point in our journey as physicians. It is both the culmination of years of effort, desire, hope, and determination, but also the dawn of our lifelong commitment to medicine and patient care. It is dually a moment of reflection and one of humbling as we face the winding road ahead – of medical school, residency, and beyond. Principally, I see this day as a celebration. This will be a landmark in our lives as healers and I am so thankful I can share this honor with my family.”
School of Medicine student, Zoe Paige Garvey, a resident of Windsor, received her degree in the Science in Society Program at Wesleyan University. She spoke about her commitment to support underserved and underrepresented communities.
“This represents the next chapter of my life, and most importantly begins a new level of responsibility to my community,” Garvey said. “I’m on my way to becoming not only the first doctor in my family but a black, female doctor in a landscape of underrepresentation.
“Receiving the white coat in front of my friends and family means so much because they’ve supported me along the way and shared in the sacrifices I have had to make to reach this point,” Garvey added. “I have a passion for service and healing, and believe that my pursuit of becoming a physician is the best way I can achieve this. I’m thrilled for what’s in store over these next several years as a medical student, and I know UConn is the perfect place for me to realize my potential and make my mark.”
Dental student Eddyson Altidor, who hails from Brooklyn, New York, attended the University of Rochester, where he majored in biology and minored in business. He echoed Garvey’s sentiments about service and the hard work it took to reach this milestone.
“This ceremony represents the trust placed in us by the people we will fight for,” Altidor said. “Whenever we feel like giving up we have to remember that even if we fail 99 times out of 100, that one successful attempt can be the difference between a lifetime victory and a lifetime defeat.”
Dental student Vanessa Vlaun is from Salem, and earned her degree in molecular and cell biology at UConn. She expressed the excitement shared by many students after receiving her white coat.
“Ever since I was a child, it was my dream to become a dentist. The White Coat ceremony stands as a representation of the transition of this dream into a reality. It is truly exciting to participate in this occasion with my classmates, as it represents the culmination of years of hard work that I know all of us have put in to be here, and the beginning of our future as dentists. I am so grateful and excited to be a member of the Class of 2025, and to have the opportunity to share this experience with so many talented people.”