New White Coats for 51 Future Dentists

The White Coat Ceremony is a symbolic introduction into the profession of dental medicine

The Class of 2027 after the School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony - August 18, 2023 (John Atashian photo)

Family, friends, and School of Dental Medicine faculty and alumni gathered in the Academic Rotunda to celebrate the new class of future dentists during this year’s white coat ceremony. The ceremony, a longstanding tradition in the School, is a symbolic introduction into the profession of dental medicine.

This year, 51 dental students received their white coats in a ceremony emceed by Dr. Eric Bernstein, associate dean for academic affairs. The students, making up the Class of 2027, have spent the last week getting their first taste of dental school during orientation and launch— which includes over two weeks of introductory courses with School of Medicine students and social events to help get acquainted with fellow classmates.

Words of Wisdom for the Class of 2027

Alumni speaker Dr. Cynara McPhail. UConn Health – School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony – August 18, 2023 (John Atashian photo)

The ceremony began with remarks from Dr. Steven Lepowsky, dean of the School of Dental Medicine, formally welcoming the students to dental school and the dental profession.

“I want to congratulate the Class of 2027 for not only choosing one of the finest and most rewarding health professions, but for choosing to start your professional career with us,” said Lepowsky. “You should be very, very proud of the incredible achievements you have made on your way here.”

Lepowsky provided some historical perspective on the white coat ceremony and its significance. UConn held its first dental white coat ceremony in 1997 as a symbol of trust that society places in health care providers to be lifelong learners and compassionate, empathic professionals.

“This is a great responsibility,” Lepowsky continued, “but we all have tremendous confidence that you are certainly up for the challenge. The trust that patients will place in you is a gift that you should respect and treasure. I encourage you to always remind yourself to continuously earn that trust.”

Lepowsky encouraged students to seize this new opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of others, use it as a platform to be a force of social justice and fairness, and advocate for equity in health care.

“The white coat is but a symbol of humanism, ethics, and professionalism. These are traits you wear from within, all the time, not just when you wear the article of clothing. You are the future of our profession, and we couldn’t possibly be in better hands,” Lepowsky said.

Dr. Kathlene Gerrity, executive director of the Connecticut State Dental Association (CSDA), encouraged the students to look ahead to the future as much as possible.

“You may have a really good vision of what you think you’re going to do in the next step of your career,” Gerrity said. “You may be already envisioning the practice you want to go into, or the role you want to have in dentistry. Strive for that dream, hit that mark. But don’t lose your vision that you can do so much more if you want to. Technology, innovation, research, mentorship—all really important parts of your career that maybe you haven’t thought about.”

Gerrity, who has served as executive director of CSDA since 2021, also encouraged students to get involved with organized dentistry groups to cultivate a good support system while in dental school and beyond.

Dr. Cynara McPhail, member of the UConn Dental Alumni Board, was part of School of Dental Medicine Class of 1984, reflected on her time at UConn and offered some advice to the incoming class.

“There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, but there’s always somebody or someone here to help you,” said McPhail. “Secondly, you do learn from your mistakes.”

“The next few years will go quickly,” McPhail continued. “Remember to be organized, be prepared, be resilient but also have fun. It’s so important to participate in other activities outside of this building.”

Noting that each white coat contains a message from an alumna with contact information so students can get in touch, McPhail concluded, “Wherever you go, remember where it started right here at UConn Health.”

Student speaker Stephanie Quezada, a fourth-year student, shared greetings with the student body and underscored the importance of the white coat.

“There are many things that a white coat can be said to symbolize, but in the eyes of a patient I believe the white coat represents one quality above all others, and that’s trust. Trust in you that you will be kind, that you will do what is best, and that you are here to help. We must strive to embody this quality. While you may not yet have the confidence to trust in yourself, rest assured, you will,” Quezada said.

The Class of 2027

UConn Health – School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony – August 18, 2023 (John Atashian photo)

There were over 1,300 applicants for the Class of 2027 during the last admissions cycle. In the incoming class, 60% are Connecticut residents, with 34% being UConn undergraduates—known as “double Huskies.”

One of them is Erin Wu, who attended the Special Program in Dental Medicine—which gives students the opportunity to combine undergraduate studies with dental education. Wu has been connected to the School of Dental Medicine since her freshman year at UConn.

“Feels very surreal to be here today,” Wu said. “So far, it’s been a great experience and this class is amazing.”

Joseph Wojtasik, who attended Quinnipiac University, is excited to be stay in Connecticut for dental school.

“I’m feeling excited to start my journey here at UConn,” Wojtasik said. “The white coat feels empowering and motivating me to keep going.”

Bryson Christian, a graduate of Oberlin College, feels a boost of confidence in his new white coat. “It confirms everything that I’ve been working for.”

University of Miami graduate Stephanie Salcines said that this ceremony is “the first step into a new chapter. It’s going to be a long journey, but I’m very excited.”

The Beginning of a New Chapter

During the ceremony, Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students, and Dr. Donna Paolella, associate dean for admissions, facilitated the presentation of coats. Dr. Aditya Tadinada, associate dean for graduate research and education, presented each student with the Honor Code Affirmation and Code of Ethics booklet.

Dr. Rajesh Lalla leads The Dentist Pledge during the School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony – August 18, 2023 (John Atashian photo)

After the students received their coats, the students recited The Dentist’s Pledge, led by Dr. Rajesh Lalla, associate dean for research.

The ceremony ended with a visit from University mascot Jonathan XIV, who traveled from Storrs to mark the momentous occasion with the incoming class.