Equipped with stethoscopes, medical students start journey

After a camping trip, orientation and ceremony in which they received stethoscopes and white coats, the new medical students are ready to hit the books.

Brandon Turner is garbed in a white coat during a ceremony Aug. 22 at the end of orientation for new medical students.

Norbert von der Groeben

For the new Stanford medical students, the white coat and stethoscope ceremony on Aug. 22 was the symbolic first step on a journey to physicianhood. Ragini Phansalkar, 21, looked thrilled; it’s a journey she has planned for since junior high school.

“You go through such a long application process, and now it’s actually all going to start,” said Phansalkar, grinning while taking photos with her family just prior to the ceremony on Alumni Green. “It’s really exciting. It’s a little surreal.”

Phansalkar, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, joined fellow members of the incoming cohort of 90 medical students, selected from an applicant pool of 7,450, for this year’s ceremony. Each student walked across a stage to be garbed in a white coat and accept his or her own stethoscope, the trademark instrument of physicians.

“The next four years, and for many of you longer, will change the way you look at and see the world,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, addressing the students and their family members and friends, as well as faculty. “You will learn some of life’s most valuable lessons from your patients.”

The ceremony concluded a week of new student activities, which began with a camping trip Aug. 16-19 to Lake Alpine in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, followed by three days of orientation, which included an informational meeting about the newly created Office of Medical Student Wellness

New medical students sit in the front rows at the white coat and stethoscope ceremony.
Norbert von der Groeben

“You’d have to be like a robot to start medical school without some uncertainties,” said Rebecca Smith-Coggins, MD, professor of surgery and associate dean for medical student life advising, who told the students the new office was open to them for all nonacademic issues, including one-on-one confidential advising. The office was created to enable a respectful learning environment and provide counseling to students on personal matters, Smith-Coggins said.

In his address, the dean highlighted some demographics of the new class. “Fifty-one percent of you are women; 15 percent of you are from communities under-represented in medicine; 21 of you were born outside of the U.S., coming from China, Columbia, India, Vietnam, just to name a few,” he said. “You come from a diverse and wide range of universities — 10 of you from Stanford, 13 from the Stanford of the East [Harvard]. Eighteen of you already have a master’s or a doctorate, and many of you have already published research, participated in varsity athletics, shined in the arts and contributed to your community.”

New students Jaclyn Konopka and Veronica Manzo listen for a heart beat.

 Norbert von der Groeben

The new class also includes 16 MD/PhD students, an unusually large number, reflecting the school’s aim to train more physician-scientists in light of a worrisome decrease in their numbers nationally, said P.J. Utz, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Medical Scientist Training Program.

“I love the idea that you can be physician and scientist,” said Phansalkar, one of the new MD/PhD students, who said her research interests are in the field of computational biology. “You get to be on the front line to see what the patient needs, and then go back and develop those needs in the lab.”

The bestowing of stethoscopes on students emphasized the importance of a doctor’s connection with a patient, said Laurie Weisberg, MD, president of the Medical Center Alumni Association.

“The stethoscope is one of the prime symbols of patient care and the practice of medicine,” Weisberg told the audience. “The great thing about the stethoscope is you have to be close to your patient to use it. This is your chance to truly interact with the patient. You are listening to what the patient has to tell you.”



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