More than 100 members of the Perelman School of Medicine's entering class donned their own embroidered Penn Medicine white coats for the first time at an in-person ceremony on Sept. 24.
Senior Vice Dean of Medical Education Suzanne Rose led the ceremony, distributing the white coats and delivering remarks to the incoming students and their guests at the annual White Coat Ceremony. Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Rose acknowledged the emotional and physical toll the virus has had on health care workers, and the greater push towards embracing scientific discovery.
"The past year has shown us how health and society intersect, how science can transform our lives, how health care providers are true heroes, and how precious health is for everyone," Rose said.
Incoming students echoed Rose's sentiments, noting how the role of health care workers during the pandemic has further motivated them to become physicians despite the mental toll.
Medical School first year Alexandria Adigun said the pandemic opened her eyes to the poor treatment of health care workers and the inequities within the United States health care system. Adigun said her aspirations to become a geriatric or psychiatric physician were reinforced from observing the stamina health care workers exhibited in the last year, despite the mental and physical toll it took on them.
Similar sentiments were felt by Medical School first year Sydney Chambule, who said he witnessed health care inequities firsthand as the Delta variant grew worse in his home country of Mozambique before he came to the Medical School.
"The pandemic enhanced an invigorating sense of purpose and responsibility and what it means to be a physician and to help people," Chambule said.
Many students' interests in medicine also stemmed from previous experiences in late childhood and early adulthood.
Medical School first year Elizabeth Huntley committed to pursuing medicine in her junior year of college at Clemson University, after working as an EMT. Huntley also combined her love for horses and medicine by volunteering as a medic at horse shows and clinics during college. As a kid, Huntley also attended lectures about horse management and zoonotic diseases — which are transmitted from animals to humans — at her local veterinary school at Iowa State University.
Huntley will become the first doctor in her family, and she is excited for the opportunity to delve into clinical rotations in January 2023 and explore the different subspecialties offered at Penn.
Chambule took two gap years after completing his undergraduate degree due to financial constraints, and he spent them conducting research in the Fishman Lab at Harvard University, a neuroscience and genetics lab that investigates the role of social behavior in zebra fish. He considers his time there important in providing him with the groundwork to pursue medicine after wet lab exposure because of the community and support the lab fostered.
Chambule added that the deeper-rooted curiosity to pursue science in particular was from his experience growing up in Mozambique following a civil war and seeing how their health system affected society, in comparison to the United States.
Second-year medical students attended their in-person White Coat Ceremony on Sept. 10, after their initial ceremony was rescheduled due to concerns about COVID-19.
Huntley, whose guests attended in person, said their presence was "the icing on the cake." The White Coat Ceremony was also available through a Facebook live-stream to guests of students who were unable to attend in person due to capacity restrictions.
"The ceremony was an important milestone for my classmates and myself," Huntley said. "Getting to put on the white coat feels like an official introduction into the world of medicine. Hearing everyone’s stories reminded me of how excited I am to have the opportunity to pursue this career and remember the experiences that led me to be here."