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PA Online White Coat Ceremony Marks Transition to Patient Care

March 19, 2024
by Abigail Roth

Family, friends, faculty, and staff gathered in Yale’s Battell Chapel — and also remotely — on March 15, to celebrate the 38 members of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Assistant (PA) Online Class of 2026 as they received their white coats. As Erin Hillis, PhD, PA-C, a 2022 graduate of the PA Online Program, explained in the ceremony’s keynote, the coats symbolize “the compassion, honor, and responsibility students are assuming as health care providers.”

Program Director Elizabeth Roessler, MMSc, PA-C, and Associate Dean for PA Education Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C, welcomed the audience and congratulated the students. Garino shared that the White Coat ceremony marks the point when the students move from learning in the classroom to learning from the patient. The students, who started the program in January 2024, were on campus for their first immersion, shortly before starting to engage with patients in Clinical Experience in Early Didactic (CEED). In CEED, students spend several hours a week in a clinical setting as they continue their pre-clerkship didactic learning, obtaining over 120 hours of clinical experience over the span of about eight months.

Marking a milestone

“We mark this milestone,” Garino said, “as a reminder that there is no more important work than caring for others. Caring for patients is a privilege and an honor, and with that privilege comes the responsibility to be the best you can be.” Roessler stated that she views 2024 as “the year of celebrations,” including of “this innovative and groundbreaking program that has forever changed PA education,” of the faculty and staff, and of the Class of 2026, “who trust us with their education and training, and who plan on serving their communities when they complete our program.”

In her remarks, Hillis noted that in a few moments, the students would put on their white coat for the first time, “Right now, your coat is bright, short, and empty. At the beginning, you may not think the fit is right. You may be unsure, or doubt your abilities.” However, she assured the students that they would continue to learn in their classes, and would apply this knowledge with their clinical experience with patients. “Week after week, your white coat will become heavier, adding more lists, pocket guides, and notes you have made to carry with you day to day. With each rotation, you will gain more knowledge and experience, and be able to bring this with you to each clinical and patient interaction.”

Hillis continued, “While you may feel hesitant and uncertain now, you will be ready to carry the weight of your white coat as it grows, and prepared when you advance to a longer one. Always remember, the most important item you put in your white coat is you.”

Hillis also emphasized to the students that while they will be guided by their medical knowledge, “it will be your kindness, compassion, and empathy” that will be their patients’ long lasting memories. Additionally, she emphasized that it is the students’ “responsibility to not take the human aspect out of medicine. You must remember to treat each patient as a whole, and include the social and emotional aspects of life when recommending therapies and treatments.”

This is your responsibility now

Teamwork and learning from others were another theme in the keynote. “You will learn as much about clinical practice from your emergency medicine preceptor as you will from actively listening to you patients. Both are equally important for different aspects of your growth.” She encouraged the students “to be open, and to not take any of these interactions for granted.”

Hillis shared that when she received her white coat, her faculty advisor told her, “this is your responsibility now.” Hillis closed by making the same statement to the students, adding, “It is your responsibility to ensure you are providing the best medical care everyone deserves. It is a privilege and honor to be able to take care of patients in their time of most need. Sometimes having a good bedside manner is the best treatment you can provide.”

After Hillis spoke, the PA Online Program’s faculty advisors helped each student, one-by-one, don their white coat, before the class recited the Physician Assistant Oath.

Submitted by Abigail Roth on March 19, 2024