August 16, 2022

First-year medical students welcomed at annual White Coat Ceremony

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white coat 3On Sunday, Aug. 14, the UAB Heersink School of Medicine welcomed the 2022 entering class at the annual White Coat Ceremony, held at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center.

Created by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993, the White Coat Ceremony emphasizes the importance of compassionate care for the patient as well as scientific proficiency. At UAB, it marks the end of medical school orientation and the new students’ first class—Patient, Doctor, and Society—which focuses on the role that physicians play in society with emphasis on professionalism, compassion, responsibility, ethics and the doctor/patient relationship.

Anupam Agarwal, M.D., executive vice dean in the Heersink School of Medicine, welcomed the students to the ceremony. He shared that the white coat is a mantel of the medical profession—a symbol the students will wear in all their future patient encounters to remind them of the impact they will have on others’ lives.  He then encouraged the students to stand up, find their friends and family in the crowd, and give them a round of applause for providing the support that helped the students reach this pivotal moment, and that will be critical for their future success in medical school.

Keynote speaker Britney Corey, M.D., MACM, FACS, reiterated the importance of a strong support system during her address, affirming to the students the value of prioritizing their own health and wellbeing, as well as that of their patients.

Corey, associate professor in the Department of Surgery, was the 2021 faculty recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award. Each year, students select a faculty member and student to receive the honor, recognizing the value they place on humanism in the delivery of care to patients and their families.

“Although you’re sitting here as a medical student today, you have many other roles: whether a parent, spouse, or friend. It’s important that you maintain relationships in all those areas,” Corey said. “Now the details of those relationships will change over the next several years, but they are so important.

“…Sometimes this profession breaks your heart,” Corey said, “but it will always be mended by the hands of those who love you.”

Christina Grabowski, Ph.D., associate dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management told the class, “You are the chosen few,” a compliment that was meant literally, as the class of 186 students had been selected from a pool of more than 4,700 applicants. Among details she shared about the class were that the students graduated from 60 undergraduate institutions; have recorded 136,534 hours of community service; are fluent in 21 languages; and have myriad hobbies and skills, including ballet, filmmaking, wig-making and tattoo artistry.

Several awards were presented at the White Coat Ceremony. MS3 Hana Habchi was awarded the 2022 Sara Crews Finley, M.D. Endowed Leadership Scholarship. The scholarship honors the legacy of Sara Crews Finley, M.D., co-founder of the first medical genetics program in the Southeast and a pioneer in the field, as well as a beloved faculty member and student mentor. Established by her family in 2014, the scholarship recognizes students who demonstrate exceptional leadership, service, and academic standing both in and outside of their medical training.

Theresa M. Caridi, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiology, and Daniel Cox, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Surgery, are the 2022 winners of the Brewer-Heslin Endowed Award for Professionalism in Medicine.

white coat 2 sizedEstablished in 2015 by the late Alabama Gov. Albert P. Brewer, the award recognizes physicians at UAB who demonstrate extraordinary commitment to providing highly skilled and deeply compassionate medical care to their patients. The award is named for both Brewer and Martin Heslin, M.D., a longtime UAB surgeon leader who was Brewer’s doctor and the inaugural recipient of the honor.

After the awards were announced, the students filed across the stage and were helped into their white coats by the regional deans of medical school’s campuses in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville. The coats are given each year to the first-year class as a special gift from the Medical Alumni Association.

After the cloaking, the class stood and was officially presented by Nicholas Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for Students, who urged the family and friends in attendance to join the students outside to celebrate this important milestone.

MS1 Brejjette Alijabi, of San Diego, Calif., said she chose the Heersink School of Medicine because of the school’s commitment to both advocacy and social justice. She learned about the school and South while working as a teacher in Nashville and decided to apply to the Primary Care Track.

“I feel like the school cares about the wellbeing of its students as individuals, not just as medical students, and really takes time to celebrate students’ successes,” Alijabi said.

Ellie Gorman, of Birmingham, who also is pursuing her M.D. on the Primary Care Track, said it felt right coming back to medical school in her hometown after completing her undergraduate studies at Notre Dame. She explained that the integrated curriculum and opportunity to learn community medicine attracted her to the program.

“Learning how to care for patients long-term and attending to all aspects of wellness really appeal to me,” she said.

Watch the full video from the White Coat Ceremony online.