Stanford Medicine MD and PA students from diverse backgrounds commemorate their past and future at this year’s white coat ceremonies.
August 29, 2022 - By Emily Moskal
Hector Gonzalez, an incoming Stanford Medicine student, attributes the conferring of his white coat to his grandmother.
When Gonzalez was 22, she died of cirrhosis, a preventable disease if caught early. Gonzalez said she hadn’t received medical care for nearly 40 years, opting instead for herbal treatments. Racial and ethnic discordance between clinician and patient, particularly if a language barrier exists, is known to discourage underserved populations from seeking care, Gonzalez said.
“I want to leverage my cultural upbringing to help those grandmothers and grandfathers who don’t want to seek medical care because they don’t think they will be heard,” the MD student said.
On Aug. 26, Gonzalez was one of 90 new medical students and 27 physician assistant students who donned white coats at two ceremonies marking the start of their studies.
Both programs drew students from diverse backgrounds: 34% of incoming medical students were born outside of the country, and 63% of incoming physician assistant students speak at least one other language besides English, such as Spanish, Mandarin and Nigerian Igbo.
Like Gonzalez, Chigozie Maduchukwu, an incoming physician assistant student who was raised by Nigerian immigrant parents, said cultural humility and competence are what drive his desire to provide the best care.
“I want to make the white coat proud,” Maduchukwu said. “I know that patients may be skeptical of science but at the end of the day, we must recognize that and remember the white coat’s focus on positive outcomes.”
A compelling welcome
At the opening of the medical student ceremony, Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, welcomed the incoming class with a call to action.
“We live in a time accentuated by COVID with enormous skepticism, but what has endured is the trust that patients have in the health care providers who they seek care from,” Minor said. “We must do everything we can to ensure that the trust continues so that we can restore what’s threatened in other institutions in society.”
The students slipped into their white coats as they approached the stage, then acknowledged the support of their family, friends and partners. When Gonzalez thanked his family for always having food on the table and for excusing him at family barbecues so that he could study in his room, his family cheered loudly in the crowd.
The students then received their stethoscopes, an iconic symbol of the physical connection between a medical professional and a patient, said Volney Van Dalsem III, MD, a clinical professor in radiology and the president of the Stanford Medicine Alumni Association.
Advocating for patients
At the physician assistant ceremony, Clair Kuriakose, PA-C, a clinical assistant professor of primary care and population health and executive director of the Stanford Center for Advanced Practice, said, “As a PA student, you will have the opportunity to go above and beyond in every patient encounter, sharing the background of a disease and the why of what you’re recommending. Most importantly, you will motivate and inspire them to be able to commit to a treatment plan of their own choice.”
Whitney Stannard, an incoming physician assistant student, learned the importance of advocating for patients when her dad was suffering from pancreatic cancer. He was in constant pain, but he felt there was nothing to do. After thorough research, Stannard pressed for an upper endoscopy, which revealed that a tumor was obstructing food. Without her advocacy — and a stent — he would have suffered more.
Making health care easier to understand and navigate is a major goal for Stannard, who is interested in exploring how policy intersects with medicine so that “we’re not letting anyone fall through the cracks of the U.S. health care system.”
At the closing of both ceremonies, the medical and physician assistant students recited the Stanford affirmation, pledging their service to humanity. Afterward, the medical students gathered in a circle to take a photo, fists pumping in the air as cheers echoed off the courtyard walls. Several students were wiping tears from their eyes.
Getting to know each student’s story about what motivated them to pursue medicine brought comfort and beauty to the celebratory day, said Sharon Loa, an incoming medical student.
“The fact that we all come together on this day, after we worked so hard…it just feels like we all are really doing it,” Loa said. “And I’m very excited to see what comes next.”
Watch a video of the ceremonies.
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.