“Curiosity is the element common to the scientific and the humanistic groundworks of medicine symbolized by the white coat,” said Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) as the school welcomed the 104 students in the MD Class of 2025 at its annual White Coat Ceremony. The students gathered on August 9 in the Edward S. Harkness Courtyard for their first day at YSM, with many families, friends, and YSM community members watching by livestream because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Brown noted that while most of the students’ families were not physically at the ceremony, “they are here with you,” adding “for most of the class of 2025, your families are the reason you are here. They have instilled in you a love of education and science, and qualities of compassion and empathy that have led you to choose the profession of medicine.”
Pandemic precautions did not prevent YSM Medical Education leaders from donning the white coats on the students, as Director of Admissions Ayaska Fernando read the name and undergraduate institution of each student. After each received their coat, and had a photo taken with Brown, Amy Liebeskind, MD ’98, the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine board president, presented students with individual stethoscopes, now a traditional gift from alumni to incoming students.
During her remarks, Brown expanded upon the theme of curiosity, stating “the Yale System of Medical Education offers an amazing environment in which you can hone your curiosity.” She pointed to the range of people the students will have the opportunity to learn from while at YSM, including Nobel laureates, Howard Hughes Investigators, master clinicians, health advisors to the President of the United States and the Governor of Connecticut, and scholars of literature and history across Yale’s campus, as well as patients and classmates.
Celebrating the diversity within the class, Brown shared that its 104 members were chosen from among more than over 6,200 applicants and come from 56 colleges and universities. More than 25% were born outside the United States representing 19 different countries, and 14 students were the first in their family to attend college. Brown expressed her eagerness to get to know everyone in the class and encouraged the students “to take the time to learn each other’s stories.”
Brown introduced guest speaker Inginia Genao, MD, associate professor of medicine (general medicine); associate chair for diversity and inclusion, Internal Medicine; and graduate medical education director for diversity, equity, and inclusion; who delivered the White Coat Address, titled An MD Made in America. Genao described how, for her, the white coat initially “gave me permission for the intrusive questions and physical exams I performed on my patients. As I acquired more knowledge, I felt I contributed to my patients’ care and the white coat took more of a symbolic meaning.”
Genao shared what she called “four Yale truths” with the students, including “we are privileged to have you instead of the other way around,” that the students all are 100% qualified to be at Yale, and that everyone at the school is totally committed to the students’ success. The final truth, Genao said, is that “Yale is not free of bias, microaggression, stereotype, racism, and any other isms,” explaining this is “because it is the world we live in.” She then emphasized that at Yale, “we are hard at work towards an environment free of any type of discrimination; an environment of inclusivity and belonging where you can speak up, feel supported, and shine irrespective of your identities.”
The class of 2025 also benefited from five pieces of “Dr. Genao advice.” She told the students to believe in themselves, not to compare themselves with others, ask for help and ask early, be patient with themselves, and make meaningful and genuine connections. She explained that one way to make connections is through storytelling, adding “sharing your story may make you feel vulnerable and that’s OK. Take a chance.”
Genao then shared part of her story, beginning, “I come from poverty.” She vividly described growing up in a small town in the Dominican Republic, often hungry and suffering from preventable diseases, to continuing to struggle in New York—including living in a rat- and roach-infested building with gun violence and not having money for warm clothes—after her aunt, grandmother, mother, and father had worked hard to enable her and her siblings to come to the United States with green cards. “You may be asking yourself how in the world did I accomplish my dream of becoming a physician, but that is another story to tell,” she said to the students. She then continued, “I hope that by sharing this part of my story I have made a deeper connection with all of you.”
At the end of the ceremony, after Associate Dean for Student Affairs Nancy Angoff, MD, MPH, MEd, introduced and recited the Human Relations Code of Conduct, Deputy Dean Darin Latimore, MD, asked everyone to stand to help honor Angoff, who is stepping down from her role in late August. Angoff, who was once in the students’ seat receiving a white coat, has welcomed 23 MD classes to Yale as associate dean The Class of 2025 is her final class.
Reflecting on the ceremony and the students beginning their experience at YSM, Deputy Dean for Education and Harold W. Jockers Professor of Medical Education Jessica Illuzzi, MD, MS, said that earlier in the day she told them, “you will be a very special class to me as I also have begun my first year as deputy dean for education at Yale. I come to this position with great enthusiasm and a commitment to help you fulfill your potential as our future physicians and leaders in medicine in a world that needs each and every one of you, your passion, your dedication, and your commitment to improving the health of all people.”