First- and second-year medical students recognized at white coat ceremonies

After last year’s induction of new students was postponed because of the pandemic, the School of Medicine held two events this year.

First-year medical student Mira Cheng spoke with a classmate Aug. 20 before a ceremony during which new students don their white medical coats and receive a stethoscope.
Steve Fisch

As an entering medical student last fall, Blynn Shideler received his white coat and stethoscope in a parking lot, where medical school staff deposited the goods in the trunk of his car.

The white coat ceremony, an annual celebration during which new medical students receive the emblems of their career as family, friends and faculty cheer them on, was one of many traditions the pandemic obliterated.

This year, however, students at the Stanford University School of Medicine were able to celebrate together. With vaccinations readily available, the school held two ceremonies: one Aug. 20 for first-year students, and another the next day for the second-years. The events were held outdoors, and all guests were required to wear masks and to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test.

“The old white coat feels different this morning,” Shideler said to the crowd seated on a lawn outside classroom buildings. “We can wear them for our parents who worked their butts off so we’d have a chance to be here today.”

Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the medical school, noted that the pandemic defined the beginning of the second-year group’s medical career, from finalizing applications to spending “hundreds of hours on Zoom” attending classes. “We’re finally in one place together,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see you in person.”

Dean Lloyd Minor addresses attendees of a white coat ceremony held Aug. 21 for second-year medical students, who, because of pandemic-related restrictions, were deprived of the ceremony when they were new students. 
Steve Fisch

Dean Winslow, MD, a professor of medicine and the keynote speaker, assured the second-year students that they made the correct career choice. “Being a doctor is absolutely the best job in the world,” he said. “You’re intellectually stimulated every day, and you get to help people every day.”

First-years don their coats

At their own ceremony, the class starting this year donned their coats for the first time. They held them, embroidered with their names and the Stanford Medicine logo, on their laps until it was time to stand and line up to cross the stage. Then they put their arms through the coat sleeves, helping one another look presentable by adjusting collars and hems.

Each first-year student received a stethoscope — a high-quality, “Mercedes-Benz of stethoscopes,” according to Neil Gesundheit, MD, senior associate dean for medical education.

And they learned about the power the white coat holds: “People will tell you things they haven’t told their closest friends by virtue of the white coat,” said Santiago Sanchez, an MD-PhD student and president of the Stanford Medical Student Association.

When they walked onto the stage, both sets of students stood at a microphone, gave their names and stated where they were from. Many cited more than one place — Lagos, Nigeria, and London; Colombia and Miami. 

Second-year medical student Blynn Shideler spoke at the white coat ceremony held Aug. 21.
Steve Fisch

A few students sported garb signifying their ancestral homelands, including a bow tie made of West African kente cloth and an embroidered dress from Oaxaca, Mexico. They thanked their families in several languages, including Spanish, Arabic and Chinese.

The two classes are among the most diverse in Stanford Medical School’s history: 38% of the 2020 entering class are from ethnic and racial groups underrepresented in medicine, while 32% of the 2021 entering class are. Nineteen percent of the 2020 entering class, and 27% of this year’s entering class, were born outside the United States.

After the ceremonies, the students grabbed pre-packaged meals and sat at tables to eat and mingle with family and friends. They introduced classmates to family members and partners.

Entering student Ivan Lopez said he was thrilled that the event was in person. “I am first-generation and low-income, the first in my family to go to college and the first to go to medical school,” he said. “So, giving my family the opportunity to celebrate this special day in person means a lot to me.”



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