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White Coat Ceremony at Yale for New Physician Associate Students

August 29, 2023
by Abigail Roth

Forty Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Associate (PA) students in the Class of 2025 received their white coats in a ceremony on August 25, 50 years after YSM’s first class of PA students graduated from the program. In Battell Chapel, Interim PA Program Director David Brissette, MMSc, PA-C, told the students “The Yale PA Program holds a legacy of excellence in health care education, and you, the Class of 2025, embody the promise and potential to carry this tradition forward.” In welcoming the class and thanking the many family members present, Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, described the students as “vibrant, talented, and committed,” as well as diverse, noting that they come from 23 different states, six are the first generation in their family to finish college, three are veterans, and a quarter identify as underrepresented in medicine.

In his opening remarks, Brissette said, “Today we gather in celebration of your journey into the noble profession of health care. This ceremony reminds us of the profound impact that you, as future physician associates, will have on the lives of countless individuals and communities.” He continued, “With this coat, you accept the responsibility of not only medical knowledge and skill acquisition but also human connection and empathy with a patient-centered focus.” He told the students that while at Yale, they will gain not only the knowledge and technical skills needed to excel, “but also the understanding that every patient is a unique individual deserving of respect, dignity, and compassion.” He continued, “Remember that behind every ailment and every triumph lies a human story, many of which may be deeply personal, and it is a privilege to be a part of those stories.”

Brown similarly focused on patients. “You will learn much about medicine. You will learn much about each other. Take the time to learn about your patients and see them as individuals,” reminding the students to listen to their patients and “never forget that caring for patients is an extraordinary honor.”

Keynote speaker Jonathan Stewart, MMSc, PA-C, a member of the Hospitalist Service at Yale New Haven Hospital, who graduated from the YSM PA Program in 1998 and precepts current students, also discussed patients. “You will have the privilege and responsibility of caring for patients at their most vulnerable moments. To do this well, you must not only master the science of medicine, but also the art of medicine. We must not only learn how to diagnose and treat diseases, but also how to listen effectively, how to empathize and respect diversity, how to collaborate and lead teams, how to innovate and improve quality, how to advocate for those who have no agency, and how to balance and maintain personal wellness (the ever elusive work-life balance).” In closing, Stewart added, “Finally, you must not only wear the white coat with pride, but also with humility.”

Before the Class of 2025 received their white coats, Brissette explained the PA Program’s White Coat Ceremony tradition—YSM’s second-year PA students one-by-one robe the first-year students. In return, the first-year students give each second-year student a pin of the YSM crest. The pin, Brissette explained, “is a reminder that it is not enough to master your studies and strive to be the best clinician you can be,” rather, “when we get to where we are going, we need to help those who follow.”

Another school tradition is that in addition to their white coat, each first-year student receives a stethoscope that PA Program alumni donate, with numerous donors including a special message for the recipient. Brissett stated, “Beyond the iconic white coat, the stethoscope stands out as the emblematic component of their attire, intricately linking to the identity of a clinician. It serves as a tangible bridge between patient and practitioner and embodies the symbolic connection that they share.” He added that in this situation, “the stethoscope goes beyond its role of connecting patient to provider. It becomes a conduit linking alumni and current students, enriching the circle of connection within this outstanding program.”

Submitted by Abigail Roth on August 29, 2023