Excited conversation filled Harkness Courtyard on August 12, when families and friends gathered for the class of 2023’s White Coat Ceremony, which marked their symbolic entrance into the medical profession as they prepare to begin their studies. As 104 new medical students took their seats, Robert J. Alpern, MD, dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine, greeted attendees warmly.
The incoming class represents Yale’s commitment towards producing diverse, talented, and driven physicians, Alpern said. The class of 2023 comes from 54 different undergraduate institutions, and is comprised of 51 male and 53 female students. 32 members are international students, and 19 individuals are on the MD/PhD track.
During his introduction, Alpern spoke about Yale’s long history of producing astounding physicians. He listed storied alumni including Nobel Prize winner Brian Kobilka MD ’81 and former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD ’03, MBA ’03. “You may be wondering, ‘do I belong in the same place that has educated so many of the greatest minds in medicine?’” he said. “The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’”
Emily Wang, MD, associate professor of medicine (general medicine), then took to the podium to deliver the keynote address, where she encouraged students to think critically about the role a physician can play in patients’ lives.
“This important rite of passage is an opportunity for us all to reflect with you, as you start your journey in medicine, on the meaning of your profession,” Wang told the students. “Starting today, your white coat gives you the privilege to bear witness to your patients’ sufferings and their strengths, to share that burden, and then to safeguard their human civil rights.”
Wang described visiting a women’s prison when she was a medical student, and how that experience opened her eyes toward inequalities in health care access for different populations. “Stepping into that prison, getting out of my comfort zone, set my career on a totally different trajectory,” she said.
She urged the class of 2023 to become champions for the people they treat, to step out of their own comfort zones, and to address the injustices they might find in the health care system. “There’s no better advocate than an astute clinician,” she said. “Let’s together, fiercely and doggedly, rise to the calling of a new professional ethos, one that puts justice at the fore.”
Following Wang’s speech, Ayaska Fernando, the school’s director of admissions, called students to the stage one by one. Faculty and administrators presented them with their white coats, and each student also received a stethoscope from the president and vice president of the Association of Yale Alumni in Medicine.
When the last student was called, Nancy Angoff, MD, MPH, MEd, professor of internal medicine and associate dean of student affairs, led the class of 2023 in a recitation of the medical school’s code of conduct. After the ceremony concluded, attendees helped themselves to refreshments as excited family members and students exchanged stories and speculated about what the next four years will bring.
For Adam King, receiving his white coat represents both following in his physician parents’ footsteps, and charting his own path. King, who attended Lawrence University in Wisconsin as an undergraduate, waited several years to apply to medical school to make sure it was something he truly wanted to do.
“Starting medical school feels like the culmination of so many things,” he said. “It means so much more than just a profession or a school—the essence of it is caring for others, and in that way facing our most basic questions of purpose.”