Eighty first-year students from the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix received the mantle of the medical profession Friday, July 21 when they donned their white coats for the first time during ceremonies at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix.
The ceremony marks the students’ entry into clinical medicine and is a rite of passage in their journey toward a health care career.
Nearly 1,400 family members and friends cheered as each new medical student put on their coat.
Guy Reed, MD, MS, new dean of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix, told the students that the white coat is “a symbol of our commitment to a profession that is built on a foundation of science, which is inspired by humanism and characterized by selflessness in the service of the greater good.”
It was Dr. Reed’s first day on the downtown Phoenix biomedical campus as dean of the medical school, which has 328 medical students in training to become physicians.
The College, which earned full accreditation earlier this year, was established as a way to ease the growing shortage of physicians in Arizona. The Phoenix campus has graduated 354 physicians in 10 years.
Prior to the ceremony, first-year student Neil Vigil, said he was excited and humbled to think of the responsibility that comes with wearing a white coat.
A U.S. Army veteran who piloted Black Hawk helicopters and led a 53-man platoon in Afghanistan, Vigil said he hopes to be involved in veteran-related research after four years of medical school.
In just the first two weeks, he said, he’s interviewed a standardized patient and shadowed physicians in the trauma center at Maricopa Medical Center.
His class is “the friendliest group of people I have ever met. They are really impressive, and from all walks of life,” Vigil said, adding that his early impression of the College is that it’s “not only interested in developing physicians, but also in transforming health care.”
Another student, Krichelle White, said she was struck by the diversity of her classmates.
“We all come from unique backgrounds,” she said. “We have classmates who have children, classmates that just got out of college and classmates like myself who have been out of college for a while.”
White said her goal is to establish a family practice locally and serve the Phoenix community.
The students will have four years of training at the medical school before they begin a residency program.
The keynote address was delivered by Kote Chundu, MD, professor of Child Health at the College and President and Chief Executive Officer of District Medical Group, which provides clinical services and manages medical administrative functions at Maricopa Integrated Health Systems.
He encouraged the class to cooperate with other physicians and members of health care teams.
“Team-based care is the best care, and sometimes the person with the right answer is not going to be you as the physician,” he said. “It should be a lifelong goal for you not to compete but to cooperate to improve patient care.”
Dr. Chundu’s advice was to think like business leaders, pace themselves, live in the moment, learn to listen and focus on the needs of the patient.
Sarah Coles, MD, who is a member of the first class that graduated from the medical school 10 years ago and is an Assistant Professor at the College in the Department of Family, Community and Preventive Medicine, delivered the alumni address.
She told the first-year students that their white coats would not stay white for very long.
“Wade in,” she said. “Get involved and get your hands dirty. Be an advocate for your patients, your profession, your community. And remember that empathy and compassion are themselves therapeutic and more valuable than all the tests, drugs and procedures we can offer.”
In addition to their white coats, donated by 100 sponsors, students received their first textbook, “The Patient History: Evidence-Based Approach to Differential Diagnosis,” courtesy of District Medical Group at Maricopa Integrated Health System; a stethoscope from Banner Health, and a lapel pin from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation containing an inscription about humanism in medicine.
Facts about the Class of 2021
• Applications received: 4,721
• Students matriculating into the program: 80
• Arizona residents: 62 students, or 78 percent of the incoming class
• Average GPA: 3.75
• Average science GPA: 3.68
• Graduated from the University of Arizona: 27
• Graduated from Arizona State University: 32
• Number of universities represented: 28
• Demographics: 60 percent female, 40 percent male
• Have graduate degrees: 16 percent