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Dean Minor with incoming MD students

Stanford Medicine white coat ceremonies mark the beginning of the journey for MDs, MSPAs

Incoming medical and physician assistant students were officially welcomed to Stanford last Friday afternoon.

When Mark Douglass was in high school, he never imagined his future could hold a day like this one: stepping forward to receive his white coat and stethoscope in the ceremony for incoming medical students at Stanford School of Medicine. "I failed to graduate high school," Douglass told me. He worked a series of unfulfilling jobs until he realized the difference education could make for him. Douglass got his GED, attended junior college, and then pursued science at UCLA.

On Friday evening, on the Dean's lawn behind Stanford Hospital, Douglass and his 89 classmates were presented with their white coats and stethoscopes -- a gift from the Stanford Medicine Alumni Association. Students were welcomed by Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine, and Neil Gesundheit, MD, professor of endocrinology and senior associate dean for medical education.

In his remarks, Minor gave students advice for the changes ahead, and encouraged them to rise to their highest potential in scholarship and patient care. "Not only are you extraordinarily capable," said Minor, "but you are joining a community whose openness, optimism, and collaboration will energize and support you as you pursue your dreams." Minor said the white coat was a symbol of the students "committing to sowing hope, health, and renewal wherever you go."

"This means the world to me," Douglass said. "I feel I am fulfilling a dream of my family's, of my mother and grandfather, who came to this country from Mexico for a better life. I represent generations of immigrants. My mother and her family picked prunes in the fields of Northern California for me to be here today."

Each of Douglass's classmates held a story of their own that marked the ceremony as a huge accomplishment and the promise of a new chapter. Lydia Tam survived cancer when she was 15 and found in her experience the inspiration to be not just a patient of medicine, but a practitioner. "I still can't believe this is happening!" she said. "We've all worked so hard to get to where we are today, so this ceremony seems like a celebration of our perseverance and hard work."

This class of MD students was selected from 6,894 applicants. With 22 percent of the class from under-represented groups in medicine, 29 percent self-identified as disadvantaged, and 19 percent the first in their families to graduate college, it was a proud moment for all.

"Coming from a Chinese and queer background has deeply shaped my identity as well as my motivation to pursue medicine," MD student Calliope Wong, who is from Connecticut, told me. "I hope to pay it forward for the next generation through providing care for marginalized communities, contributing LGBT health research, teaching, and remembering to be a sound individual who remembers her roots. I see receiving the white coat and stethoscope as the extension of a promise, to serve with humanity and humility."

Earlier in the afternoon, the 27 incoming students in the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program received their white coats and stethoscopes, also courtesy of the Stanford Medicine Alumni Association. "I've been looking forward to this for so long," new student Radhika Raj, from Irvine, California, told me. "It's rewarding and humbling to take the next step on a journey to helping people, saving lives, and changing the world."

The MSPA students -- who spend 50 percent of their training time with MD students -- were welcomed by Susan Fernandes, PA-C, clinical professor of pediatric cardiology, associate dean for PA education, and program director of the MSPA program. Fernandes noted that this class (one-third who were first-generation college students) was selected from about 2,000 applicants -- a highly competitive 2 percent acceptance rate. They were greeted by the class of 2020, which led the MSPA program when it started last year.

After receiving their white coats and stethoscopes, the MSPA and MD students rose and stood together in their separate ceremonies to recite the Stanford Affirmation, a pledge to uphold ethical standards of caregiving, diversity, inclusion, and citizenship. They were joined by Stanford's faculty physicians and physician assistants, who recited the pledge alongside them, echoing the words that define their work at Stanford, and uniting the standard-bearers with the newest protégés: students who will spend the next few years training to be the medical leaders of the future.

Photo of Lloyd Minor (center) and MD class by Steve Fisch Photography

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