August 15, 2023

Heersink School of Medicine welcomes first-year students at White Coat Ceremony

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IMG 6406On August 13, 2023, members from the UAB Heersink School of Medicine incoming MS1 class gathered with friends, family, faculty, and staff to celebrate the White Coat Ceremony. Each year, Heersink School of Medicine honors the class through the traditional cloaking of new medical students with their newly received white coats. The ceremony took place at BJCC Concert Hall in Birmingham, AL and was facilitated by Heersink School of Medicine leadership from each of its campuses.

Shortly after 2 p.m., students from the 2023 MS1 class filed into the auditorium, grouped into Learning Communities. During their orientation week (July 24-28), the new students received their community assignments for all four years of medical school. These small groups exist to provide support and professional growth opportunities throughout the students’ time at Heersink School of Medicine.

Anupam Agarwal, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medicine and dean of Heersink School of Medicine, welcomed those gathered. He noted the importance the ceremony holds for the students: “Today marks a significant milestone in the journey to becoming a physician. It is the day you receive your first white coat, which symbolizes your entrance into the medical profession.”

IMG 6459He explained that the White Coat Ceremony was created by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993 to emphasize the importance of compassionate care for the patient as well as scientific proficiency. For the gathered UAB students, the ceremony represented the end of their medical school orientation and the official beginning of their medical education. The event was made possible by support from the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

Christina Grabowski, Ph.D., associate dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management, congratulated the class on successfully advancing through the rigorous application process. “We had 4,500 applicants for our class,” she noted. Speaking directly to the students in the audience, she said, “You were chosen. You are the chosen few.” She then presented accomplishments about the class that helped get them to this point. This medical student class combined for more than 139,000 hours of scholarly activity before applying to medical school. The students of this class are fluent in 27 different languages, are educated in more than 70 different disciplines, and graduated from 50 different undergraduate colleges and universities.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Catherine Ikard, M.D., assistant professor of Neurology in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine for the Tuscaloosa Regional campus. She was the 2022 faculty recipient of the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine award.

“Even now as you’re in your preclinical years, everything you’re doing is about the patients you will one day serve,” Ikard reminded the class. “Ten years from now, five years from now, you’re not going to remember your test scores. You’re going to remember the people--the relationships you built with each other, the mentors that guided you along the way, and the patients. You’re going to remember their names, those patients’ faces, and the exact steps they taught you along the way. That is the backbone of becoming a doctor; that is backbone of medical education.”

IMG 6435Two awards were presented during the ceremony. The Sarah Crews Finley Endowed Leadership Scholarship was given to medical student William Illiano for excellence in academics, service, and leadership qualities. The Brewer-Heslin Endowed Award for Professionalism in Medicine was given to Anna Hurst, M.D., M.S., FACMG, associate professor in the Department of Genetics. This award emphasizes the highest ideals of professionalism in the areas of compassionate, ethical patient care and a lifelong dedicated pursuit of knowledge.

The students then approached the stage to complete the ceremonial cloaking of their white coats. Students were cloaked by deans from the three regional campuses or by a designated family member with an M.D.

Concluding the ceremony, Nicholas Van Wagoner, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean of students, addressed the newly cloaked medical students. “It is my honor and pleasure to say to you that you are the future of UAB Heersink School of Medicine,” he said. “Welcome to the incoming class of 2023.”

Click here to view the recording of the White Coat Ceremony live stream. Learn more about making a gift to the UAB Heersink School of Medicine.