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Educational journey begins for new medical students

Bonnie Miller, M.D., right, helps first-year VUSM student Adebesin Mobolanie with her white coat during last week’s ceremony. (photo by Anne Rayner)

As family members, friends and faculty gathered in 208 Light Hall, many with cell phones positioned to capture the moment, Bonnie Miller, M.D., MMHC, welcomed them to the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s (VUSM) annual Convocation and White Coat Ceremony, and then turned to the first-year students and asked a simple question.

“So I’m asking you now, why are we here?” she posed. “Take a moment to think about it, and I want everyone in the audience to ponder for a few moments as well. Why are we gathered here this afternoon at the very beginning of a journey, decades away from its end? Are we here to celebrate the accomplishment of a lifelong dream, getting into medical school? Or are we here to anticipate the great accomplishments you are sure to achieve in the future? Are we here to show support and be supported because the path ahead is arduous? Or are we here to acknowledge the enormous responsibilities that, starting today, you will begin to assume?

André Churchwell, M.D., left, straightens Lucas Wollenman’s collar after he received his white coat. (photo by Anne Rayner)

“Of course the answer is all of the above,” said Miller, Senior Associate Dean for Health Sciences Education, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and Executive Vice President for Educational Affairs, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Nearly 30 years ago Vanderbilt first marked the donning of the signature white coat as the official entrance into medical school for first-year students. The ceremony comes at the end of the introductory course, Foundations of the Profession, which gives students an understanding of the values and principles that guide a physician’s relationship with society and patients.

For the 100 members of the 142nd class of VUSM, the first day of that course began on July 24.

Jessica Zic smiles after receiving her coat. (photo by Anne Rayner)

The incoming class was selected from a pool of 6,412 applicants and came to Vanderbilt from 34 states, three foreign countries and 59 undergraduate schools with 23 majors. The class GPA range is 3.1 – 4.0 and the MCAT range is 70th -100th percentile. The median GPA is 3.9, while the median MCAT is in the 98th percentile.

Members of the class earned undergraduate degrees from Vanderbilt University, University Notre Dame, Duke University, Yale University, Emory University, Cornell University and other excellent institutions, said Jennifer Kimble, M.Ed., director of Admissions.

Fourteen of the students plan to pursue M.D./Ph.D. degrees; four students are enrolled in the Medical Innovators Development Program (MIDP), a four-year Ph.D.-to-M.D., training curriculum tailored to engineers and applied scientists, and 18 students belong to groups that are underrepresented in medicine.

Co-chairs of the admissions committee and those responsible for selecting the class, Alice Coogan, M.D., and David Bader, Ph.D., read the names of the students as they received their white coats. Amy Fleming, M.D., associate dean for Medical Student Affairs, André Churchwell, M.D., senior associate dean for Diversity Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer, and Bill Cutrer, M.D., MEd, director of Learning Communities and Immersion Phase co-director, assisted.

Bonnie Miller, M.D., extends her reach to assist Jacob Schultz with his white coat. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Among the capacity crowd at the ceremony were several White Coat sponsors who made donations to support the many student activities and organizations that enrich student life at Vanderbilt.

“The White Coat Ceremony is a rite of passage both joyful and solemn,” Miller told the class. “It celebrates and anticipates, it demands and supports. It is a ritual that marks your entrance into a new universe of learning, encompassing the specialized knowledge you will acquire, the expert skills you will master, and most importantly, the good and decent professional you will become.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, students, along with their advisory college mentors, recited an oath originally composed by the faculty of the University of Namibia Medical School and modified for VUSM that detailed the obligations and responsibilities of learners and their teachers instead of defining those of a physician.