August 02, 2017
By Kristi Birch
The class of 2021 at the University of Kansas School of Medicine is a class of firsts.
In his keynote address at the White Coat Ceremony held the afternoon of July 28 for KU School of Medicine first-year students, Robert D. Simari, M.D., interim executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center and executive dean of the KU School of Medicine, noted that the class of 2021 would be the first to begin training in the new Health Education Building, a 170,000-square-foot building in which students from the KU Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Health Professions can learn and practice together using the facility's advanced simulation technology and flexible learning spaces. They will also be the first to follow the new ACE (Active, Competency-based and Excellence-driven) curriculum, which allows students to gain clinical experience early on and integrates foundational science with clinical training across all four years of their medical school experience.
What wasn't a first was the significance of the White Coat Ceremony, held every year since 1998 to mark first-year students' (commonly known as M1s) entrance into the school of medicine and into the medical profession. During the ceremony, the 221 members of the class of 2021 were brought up on stage one by one to be cloaked in a white coat, a symbol of the physician's profession.
"While today has a special meaning as we start ACE, the day remains a personal reflection point in your careers and in your lives. With the wearing of the white coat, your life changes forever. The coat changes how others see you, how you see yourself and how you act," said Simari. "From this day on, your lives are in service to those who suffer. Never forget the meaning of this coat."
The first-year students came from all three University of Kansas Medical School campuses—Kansas City, Wichita and Salina—to Memorial Hall in downtown Kansas City, Kan., to participate in the ceremony, with their families and friends in attendance.
For many of the students, the ceremony was a celebration of a dream come true: "I have dreamed of this day ever since I was three years old," said Jorrie Dykes, a Salina native who will be attending the Salina campus. "To have it be official—I can't describe it."
After donning a white coat, each student signed the Honor Code Book and received a pin from a student leader representing one of eight medical alumni societies before exiting the stage. Each white coat also included a Keeping Healthcare Human pin, a gift from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, initiators of the first White Coat Ceremony in the country in 1993. The rite of passage also marked a profound change in the students' lives: "You put this coat on and it's the rest of forever," said Trang Nyugen, a first-year student from Topeka who will attend the Kansas City campus.
The students also recited in unison an oath affirming their commitment to uphold their commitment to high standards of professionalism and patient care, which was followed by a performance of "Man in the Mirror" by Doctors Notes, an a capella choir made up of KU medical students.
The day was significant for the families of the students as well. Ngozi Friday flew to Kansas City from Los Angeles, Calif., to watch her son, Tony Friday, who earned his undergraduate degree from UCLA, go through the ceremony. Friday said that even though her son will be far away, she is glad that in Kansas, he will get to experience a different part of the country. But mostly, she says, she is proud. "When he put that coat on, that was my moment, because I know how hard he's worked," she said.