“With a white coat comes great responsibility. You will be impacting the lives of your fellow human beings.” Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Olmedo ’11, PA-C, shared this insight with the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Associate (PA) Class of 2020, at their White Coat Ceremony on September 7. The 40 members of the Class of ’20, one-by-one, received their white coats from the 39 members of the Class of ’19, following a still relatively new tradition of the PA Program. In return, the Class of ’20 presented members of the Class of ’19 with a pin of the YSM crest, which, as PA program director Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C, explained, is meant as a reminder to students as they are getting close to entering the profession that, “when they get there, they have a responsibility to turn around and help others.”
In addition to their coats, members of the Class of ’20 each received a stethoscope, donated by or in memory of 40 Yale alumni, with a special note from the donor. Several of the donors were among the large contingent of family, friends, faculty, staff, and alumni present for the ceremony.
When Garino welcomed the audience, she shared that while Yale’s PA Program is the third oldest in the United States, with its first students graduating in 1973, its first White Coat event was not held until 2007, when about 50 people squeezed into a YSM classroom for a small ceremony. She described how the tradition “has grown in size and significance to what we see today,” referencing the significant gathering in Mary S. Harkness Auditorium.
Garino explained that receiving a white coat is both celebrating a milestone and a rite of passage, as one shifts from the classroom to clinical rotations. She described the stethoscopes as not only a tool for the PAs, but “symbolically a link between clinician and patient.”
Assistant professor and director of research education Rosana Gonzalez-Colaso, PharmD, MPH, introduced Olmedo, the keynote speaker for the ceremony, describing him as a “yes I can do that” person when he was a PA student, who “had a dream to practice medicine as a PA in a rural community, to help individuals and the community.”
Olmedo told the audience how he first was exposed to the PA profession while he was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, while serving in the United States Army. A PA assisted his team, remotely, and it was that night that Olmedo decided he wanted to be a PA, so that he could help people in need. He entered the Yale PA Program immediately after serving in the Army and, in 2013, joined the Indian Health Service where he has served since 2017 as chief clinical consultant for PAs, responsible for representing, advocating, and supporting the profession nationally through 12 geographic areas and 170 clinical service units that provide health care to over two million American Indian and Alaska Native people.
Olmedo set a high standard for the students, telling them “we expect you to be leaders in the community and the PA profession,” and shared several pieces of advice from his five principles of exam room leadership that have guided his career, including “medicine is easy, relationships are hard,” specifically referring to relationships with patients, physicians, medical teams, and the community. He also encouraged the students to “seek self-awareness, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and what they need to maintain balance,” and to “mind their moral compass, even when no one is looking.”
He finished his remarks, just before the students received their white coats, with the following advice, “today is the first time you put on that white coat, remember that feeling,” and “wear them with pride, wear them with humility, remember what it means, then navigate your own way and make it your own.”
While the Classes of ’19 and ’20 are at different stages of their PA experience, the hugs that accompanied the exchange of coats and pins reflected the strong camaraderie among the students. When the final student in the Class of ’20 received a white coat, the Class of ’19 stood and applauded their successor class in a show of respect. The Class of 2020 then also stood, as associate program director David Brissette, MMSc, PA-C, led both classes in reciting the Yale PA Program Professional Oath. Olmedo had exercised the last statement of the oath during the ceremony: “I will share and expand knowledge within the profession.”