August 19, 2013

Class of 2017 welcomed at White Coat Ceremony

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The best advice Heather Taylor, M.D., has received about being a compassionate, caring physician came directly from her patients. On Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, she shared some of those lessons to UAB’s incoming class of medical students as the keynote speaker at the white coat ceremony, the students’ official introduction to a lifetime of medical education by receiving short white lab coats.

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Speaking on humanism in medicine, Taylor, an alumna who currently is associate professor of Pediatrics, pediatric clerkship director and associate director of medical student affairs at the UAB School of Medicine’s Tuscaloosa Regional Campus, talked about several patients she has treated at different times in her medical career, including a young girl who passed away from a rare neurological disorder two years after Taylor met her family.

“I became a believer in family-centered rounds and in respecting a patient’s and their family members’ roles in the medical team,” Taylor said. “Her family also taught me it was important to celebrate successes – even small ones – and that every patient, even the ones who cannot respond, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The ceremonial presentation of white coats to medical students, created by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993, includes the signing of the oath of commitment to patient care that reminds incoming students of the dedication necessary to complete a medical education and underscores the responsibilities inherent in the practice of medicine.

UAB’s white coat ceremony marks the end of roughly three weeks of medical school orientation and the new students' first class, Patient, Doctor and Society. That class focuses on the role that physicians play in society, with emphasis on professionalism, compassion, responsibility, ethics and the doctor/patient relationship.

“I think the White Coat Ceremony is a symbol of our transition to working in medicine, an aspiration we’ve all had for so long,” Aaron Schaffner, a new first-year medical student from Montgomery. “It’s not a celebration of where we’ve been, but of what we’re going to do.”

This year’s incoming class represents 55 colleges and universities and 33 degrees of study. The admissions committee considered 2,926 applications and conducted more than 1,100 interviews of 430 candidates before selecting the class, according to Nathan Smith, M.D., assistant dean for students and admissions.

Macie Champion, a medical student from Trussville, said the first year will be an opportunity for her and fellow classmates to “challenge ourselves and see what we’re made of.”

“I know it will be challenging, but rewarding,” said Meg Gardner, from Mobile. “I expect to be living in Volker Hall the next couple of months and learning all the time. I’m excited to be starting this process.”

The students filed onto the stage of UAB’s Alys Stephens Center’s Jemison Concert Hall, where their names were read and deans helped them into their white coats, provided by the Medical Alumni Association. The MAA also presented the Martha Myers Role Model Award to two physicians who have made great contributions to patient care and to the medical profession. This year’s recipients were Judith Jehle, M.D., an obstetrician/gynecologist in Montgomery, and Kenneth Harman, M.D., who accepted his award via video message from Greenland, where he is deployed with the U.S. Coast Guard.

The ceremony closed with the students reciting their class mission statement, written by the students themselves during their first class:

“As we embark upon our journey to physicianship, we pledge to uphold the following tenets to the best of our abilities: We will serve with integrity, lead with humility, and act with compassion; We will treat all patients, colleagues, and mentors with respect and professionalism; We will cultivate in ourselves a drive to excellence through constant learning and critical self-reflection; We will persevere in times of trial, relying on the passion and ideals that led us to medicine. In so doing, we promise to support one another, in upholding these values, as we strive to deliver the highest quality of care to all who seek our help,” the mission states.