For Marcella Nunez-Smith, M.D., the donning of the white coat evokes memories of her cousin Brenda. Although Nunez-Smith was still a medical student when her cousin was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, her family called on her to be their voice in their interactions with physicians who cared for Brenda.
In her keynote address to the 100 students in the medical school’s Class of 2016, Nunez-Smith, assistant professor of medicine and assistant director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, described the impact of her cousin’s illness on her. Soon after Nunez-Smith began medical school, Brenda was diagnosed with a breast cancer that is unresponsive to many drugs. Nunez-Smith tried to enroll her cousin in clinical trials, but Brenda died at the age of 36. Ever since, Nunez-Smith said, she has seen her cousin “in the eyes of every patient.”
This experience gave Nunez-Smith her capacity for empathy—one of the five things she emphasized as crucial to the incoming class’ success in medical school. She also urged them to “learn from everyone,” to “question convention,” to “be comfortable with uncertainty,” and to “create”—to write, dance, paint.
“The donning of the white coat is the singular rite of passage,” she said. “It confers upon you a great deal of privilege, but also responsibility. So as you mature into your role as physician remember to be humble, but also of service.”
In addition to white coats, the students received stethoscopes funded by individual donors through the School of Medicine's Alumni Fund. The stethoscopes were presented by Christine Walsh, M.D. ’73, president of the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine, and Michael Tom, M.D. ’83, chair of the Medical Alumni Fund Board.
As Emmanuel Ohuabunwa strode across the stage and slipped into his new white coat, his family members gave him a standing ovation. After the ceremony he mentioned the Yale system as a main factor in his choice of medical schools. His classmates echoed his attraction to the Yale system. “We can learn for the love of learning,” said Amy Yuan, who is “happy to be back” after graduating from Yale College in 2010. Anirudh Sreekrishnan said he looks forward to having “the flexibility to really pursue things that I’m passionate about and interested in.”
The new class includes 55 men and 45 women who graduated from 53 different colleges. Harvard and Yale provided 31 members of the class and 64 spent time between college and medical school pursuing advanced degrees, medical research, heath care consulting, teaching, or clinical volunteer work. The class was selected from among 4,103 applicants in what was one of the most competitive admissions years in the school’s history, according to admissions director Richard Silverman.