White coats, stethoscopes, and pins with the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) crest played symbolic roles in the YSM Physician Associate (PA) Program White Coat Ceremony on September 6, 2019.
The 40 members of the Class of 2021, were, as PA Program director and assistant professor Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C stated in welcoming remarks, experiencing “a rite of passage,” as they transition from only learning in the classroom to learning from the patient as part of the clinical team. She explained that “the ceremony and the white coat are reminders that we clinicians are privileged to care for patients. Patients let us into their lives at a time when they are most vulnerable and afraid, in pain, and they confide in us their deepest fears.”
Though the Class of 2021 is YSM’s 50th PA class, the PA Program did not hold its first white coat ceremony until 2007. The tradition that has developed since that time is for second-year PA students to help first-year students put on their white coats for the first time. In turn, each second-year student is given a pin with the YSM crest on it.
Garino characterized the pin as “a reminder that it is not enough to master your studies and strive to be the best clinician you can be—that’s expected.” She continued “the pin is a reminder that when we get where we are going, we need to turn around and help those who follow. It’s part of what keeps the Yale network so strong. The Yale PA Program is the third oldest program in the country. We have a long and illustrious history and it is important that every member of our community remember that they are part of that rich history.”
The third symbol with a featured role in the ceremony: the stethoscope. Every member of the Class of 2021 received a stethoscope, which PA program alumni had donated. Garino explained that the stethoscope “is the symbolic connection between the patient and the clinician – a physical link between the two.” And because alumni donated them, “the stethoscope not only connects patient to PA; it also connects Yale PA alumni with new students.”
Several stethoscope donors were in the audience, including the White Coat Ceremony guest speaker Donna Murray ’96, MS, PA-C, assistant professor of physician assistant studies and clinical director of physician assistant studies at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Garino said Murray “lives the mission of the Yale PA Program. We strive to educate outstanding clinicians and to foster leaders who will serve their communities and advance quality health care. Donna has certainly done that in her career.”
Besides holding several clinical positions, in adult primary care, emergency medicine, surgical trauma, and wound care, Murray has been the driving force behind several philanthropic efforts. In 1992, she founded the African American Miracle Match Network, which strove to increase the number of minorities on the National Bone Marrow Registry, and she was the founder and executive director of Project HealthShare from 1999-2010. Project HealthShare worked with Charlotte Volunteers in Medicine Free Clinic to provide health screenings, education, and primary care to uninsured patients in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina.
The ceremony in YSM’s Harkness Auditorium, filled with family, friends, alumni, faculty, and staff, concluded with the Classes of 2020 and 2021 reciting the Yale PA Program’s professional oath, pledging to care compassionately for patients and continually build on their knowledge and share it with others.