White Coat Ceremony Welcomes School of Medicine Class of 2019

Posted in GUMC Stories

AUGUST 7, 2015-Nearly 200 members of the School of Medicine Class of 2019, representing seven countries, 26 states and the District of Columbia, were given their first white coats on August 7 at the White Coat Ceremony, an annual tradition celebrating the start of the students’ careers in medicine. The ceremony on the Podium of the Medical-Dental Building was followed by a reception in the Pre-Clinical Sciences Building sponsored by the Parents Council.

By cloaking them in their first white coats, School of Medicine deans and faculty members demonstrate their trust that the first-year medical students will carry on the noble tradition of doctoring. Several students were coated by family members who had previously earned MDs, including School of Medicine alumni.

“We’re so pleased to welcome you to the Hilltop, you sons and daughters of Georgetown,” said Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD (new window), dean of medical education. “We have met your wonderful families. We share their pride. We pledge to treat you as we would our own sons and daughters because now you are ours as well.”

The white coat also symbolizes a doctor’s promise to heal and care for all patients they encounter, carrying out the Hippocratic Oath, which students recite for the first time as a class at the conclusion of the ceremony.

“Reciting the Hippocratic Oath as a class, led by Dr. Knowlan, was a very powerful experience which I often reflect upon during difficult situations,” said Jenny Van Kirk, MD, SOM’14. “In fact, to this day, I keep a copy of the Hippocratic Oath in my own white coat pocket as a reminder of both the responsibility and privilege of the profession.”

Now an internal medicine resident at Duke University Medical Center, Van Kirk returned to Georgetown to coat her brother Patrick, who felt excited that the ceremony marked another big step in his career towards becoming a doctor. “Based on my sister’s experience here at Georgetown, I knew when I got the acceptance call from Dr. Mitchell that Georgetown was where I would end up going for medical school,” he said.

Carrying on the tradition of cura personalis

In his opening remarks, Mitchell spoke about the significance of cura personalis, “care of the whole person,” a hallmark of Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“Today, one week after the feast of St. Ignatius, you join Georgetown’s community of scholars, healers and teachers dedicated to the Ignatian, Jesuit principle of cura personalis in which we commit, as instructed by St. Ignatius, to the formation of the whole person – your mind, body and spirit,” Mitchell said. “And today, you will make the sacred pledge, not only to the ancient Hippocratic ideals, but also to cura personalis, as the Georgetown version of the care of the whole patient.”

Stephanie Woo, SOM’19, was inspired to study medicine at Georgetown after seeing cura personalis in action when her sister Jennifer, SOM’15, faced a medical emergency in 2013. “The greatest thing about Georgetown has been their support of Jenn throughout her diagnosis and treatment, which I thought was a living example of cura personalis,” she said. “I was impressed by the fact that Georgetown cares about the whole person, not only with regard to patients, but also their own students.”

“I am thrilled to be returning to Georgetown on Friday to coat my little sister Stephanie,” said Jennifer Woo, now a preliminary medicine resident entering the radiation oncology program at Stanford. “She has been my number one support, not only during med school but also during my own journey through cancer treatment. My sister is an incredibly compassionate and loyal individual and I hope she will make Georgetown proud!”

“Growing up, I witnessed my mother constantly treat all people, regardless of their station in life, with dignity and kindness,” said Patrick Joyce, SOM’19. He later realized that his mother exemplified cura personalis “in all of her relationships with other people, both professional and personal.”

Joyce was coated by his parents, Mary E. Young, MD, and David L. Joyce, MD, both SOM’1982, who met and married at Georgetown. As an applicant for a spot in the class of 2019, he saw reflections of his father’s personality in the students he met. “During my interview the medical students who accompanied us throughout the day reminded me of my dad,” Joyce said. “They were helpful, sincere and fun all at the same time.”

“I look forward with great pride to being coated by my parents and embarking on the journey of becoming a Georgetown physician,” Joyce added. “I am honored to be shaped by the same institution that helped my parents become the incredible people they are today.”

Words of encouragement 

While the class of 2019 will have a very different medical school experience than he did, Donald Knowlan, MD, emeritus professor of medicine, said that he expects their experience will be even more rewarding than his own. “Fifty years after our graduation, we gathered and agreed we’d made a great choice of a profession,” he said. “We practiced during the golden era of medicine. And so it will be with you. You, class of 2019, you’re now entering your golden era.”

Knowlan encouraged students to be patient with themselves and always focus on putting their patients first. “In this new era of precision medicine, future physicians will need to be strong patient advocates and patient protectors,” he said. “Remember the patient – he needs you more now than ever.”

Kat Zambon
GUMC Communications