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MD Class of 2026 Welcomed at White Coat Ceremony

August 11, 2022
by Abigail Roth

“The Yale System of Medical Education offers an amazing environment in which you can hone your curiosity,” Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, told the 104 members of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) MD Class of 2026, during their White Coat Ceremony. “As a student in the Yale system,” Brown continued, “you may learn from the Nobel laureate or the Howard Hughes Investigator down the hall, the master clinician in the hospital, the health advisor to the president of the United States or the governor, the scholar of literature or history across campus, from your patients, and from each other.”

In welcoming the class at this annual event, held on August 8 in the Edward S. Harkness Courtyard, Brown celebrated its diversity, noting 27 members of the class were born outside of the United States, from 20 different countries and regions—Canada, China, Ethiopia, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Korea, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Syria, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Brown encouraged the students to “take the time to learn each other’s stories,” as well as “the stories of your patients so that you will always see them as individuals.”

Reflecting on the commitment the students are making as they “embark on this profession of medicine,” Brown discussed the symbolism of the white coat, noting that it has come to represent the importance of science in medicine, as well as professionalism and humanitarian ideals. She emphasized, “A commitment to respect for persons, acknowledging the dignity of the individual patient, is fundamental to our profession and supersedes all other ideologies. I hope that these values and commitments will anchor you as you learn and practice medicine in a changing world.”

"Never been a more important time to be in medicine"

Professor of Medicine (Hematology) Alfred Lee, MD ’04, PhD ’03, began his White Coat address by welcoming the students to their “family for life,” and telling them, “I speak on behalf of the entire Yale faculty when I say that all of us very much look forward to a lifetime of friendship, mentorship, and learning with each and every one of you.”

He then shared a personal story of his path to becoming a clinician-educator, which he described as a dream job, and the doubts and insecurities he had along the way. He explained to the students that he did so because “you are about to meet the most amazing people you’ve ever met in your entire life, and it’s going to look as though they roll out of bed every day looking and feeling and being amazing effortlessly.”

But, he continued, “the truth is that all of us have had our struggles, all of us have our own story to tell, we’ve all been exactly where you are and have had to work incredibly hard and have had to rely on tremendous support from others to get where we are, and in some cases like mine, it’s taken a long time to figure out what our paths should be.”

Lee reassured the students that nonlinear paths and uncertainty are “all part of the process of learning and developing and growing to become the very best physician you can possibly be,” adding that the faculty at YSM is “here to help and guide and support you every single step of the way.”

Turning to the practice of medicine, Lee told the Class of 2026 that it is “an incredibly exciting time to be in medicine,” noting the therapeutic advances that have emerged in so many fields that are beyond what anyone at any point in human history could have imagined. For example, in medical oncology, “the treatments we’re giving, including immunotherapy, targeted therapies, and CAR T-cell therapy, have completely revolutionized cancer care, turning once-fatal diseases into conditions that are completely manageable and sometimes even curable.”

However, Lee emphasized that at the same time “our medical system is plagued by immeasurable health inequities and health disparities, both in the U.S. and globally,” resulting in cutting-edge therapies remaining completely out of reach for most individuals, particularly underprivileged patients from under-resourced communities. He shared the statistic that nearly 10% of the U.S. population is without health insurance.

Therefore, Lee emphasized that in addition to this being the most exciting time to be in medicine, there has “never been a more important time to be in medicine.” He said, “You all have arrived here for a reason: to embrace these challenges and transform them to the benefit of all patients everywhere, that scientific progress will continue to move forward while we expand access to cutting-edge therapies, so that all individuals regardless of their background, their financial means, their skin color, their cultural identity, their sexual identity, or their beliefs may benefit equally.”

As he concluded his remarks, Lee referred to the different paths members of the Class of 2026 may take, and told the students, “Whatever your interest is, there is a need, and a home, for you as a doctor.”

White Coat Pledge

After Lee spoke, the “coating” portion of the ceremony took place. As Associate Dean for Student Affairs John Francis, MD, PhD, read each student’s name, a faculty member helped the student don their white coat and Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine executive committee president J. McLeod (Mac) Griffiss, MD `66, presented them with a stethoscope, a gift from the alumni. These gestures were a symbolic reflection of Brown’s remarks to students: “Our commitment to you today is that we will set the bar high, but we will help you to reach it. Our commitment to you is that you are not alone. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of us for advice or guidance.”

The White Coat Pledge, drafted with the help of senior members of the Medical Student Council led by Aishwarya Pillai, MD Class of 2023, was a new element of the traditional ceremony. The pledge is a compilation of commencements oaths from prior YSM classes, the YSM Overarching Goals and Competencies, and principles upheld historically and globally for those entering the profession of medicine. Jessica Illuzzi, MD, MS, deputy dean for education and Harold W. Jockers Professor of Medical Education, led the class in reciting the oath, which concluded with the words, “With this white coat, we humbly recognize the privileges endowed upon us, as well as the accompanying responsibilities, and we will strive to be worthy of the trust we receive.”

Submitted by Abigail Roth on August 11, 2022