White coat events provide meaningful initiation into health care

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | August 20, 2013

Image with caption: Faculty member Heather Hessheimer helps Class of 2016 College of Dentistry student Aaron Stroh on with his coat at last year's white coat ceremony. (Photo by Margaret Cain)

Faculty member Heather Hessheimer helps Class of 2016 College of Dentistry student Aaron Stroh on with his coat at last year's white coat ceremony. (Photo by Margaret Cain)

It sounds like such a little thing: putting on a jacket, placing a pin.

Yet throughout this week, at white coat and pinning ceremonies held across the campus and the state, UNMC's colleges and schools will inaugurate a new class of students. And putting on that white coat will be a very important moment -- the culmination of years of hard work, with years of hard work still ahead.

"The white coat ceremony is important for several reasons," said Gary Yee, Pharm.D., associate dean of the College of Pharmacy.

"First, it welcomes students to the profession. Secondly, it is a public acknowledgement by the students of the responsibilities of the profession and their commitment to maintain professional attitudes and behaviors in the presence of family, friends and faculty."

Location, location, location

Elizabeth Pflug shared this story from her aunt, a UNMC College of Medicine graduate:

"When we got our white coats, one student in the class was so proud to have received it that he wore it out to dinner with his family that night.

"Unfortunately for him, a white coat means different things in different places, and at this restaurant one of the customers asked him to bus a table!"

Merlyn Vogt, D.D.S., assistant dean for student affairs in the College of Dentistry, called the ceremony symbolic, adding that it provides students a good reminder of the expectation for professionalism.

"It's a perfect opportunity for the deans to emphasize the values of integrity, ethics and respecting the rights of patients," he said.

For College of Medicine student Elizabeth Pflug, those charges made the ceremony "a very meaningful initiation into medicine.

"I can't say I felt emotional -- it was more of a solemn affair," Pflug said. "It was an emotional experience for my parents. My mom cried."

Visiting with proud parents of students is an enjoyable part of the ceremony, said Kyle Meyer, Ph.D., senior associate dean of the School of Allied Health Professions.

The coats symbolize "the beginning of a professional philosophy and approach to clinical care," said Juliann Sebastian, Ph.D., dean of the College of Nursing, "and it is an opportunity to welcome students to their journeys toward a career in nursing."

Strut your stuff

UNMC Today wants to help incoming students celebrate. Send a photo from your white coat or pinning ceremony this week to UNMC Today. We will create an online photo gallery to share with the campus.

Each individual coat is sponsored by a UNMC alum -- inside a pocket of their white coats, students find the name of a person who sponsored the coat. It's a tradition that Pflug found very meaningful.

"That promoted a nice sense of encouragement and community," she said.

Dentistry student Aaron Stroh said he was "ecstatic" to put on the white coat for the first time.

"It has made me more excited for a career in dentistry, and the excitement of returning this fall as a D2," Stroh said.

"And wearing that white coat again gives me a smile from ear to ear."

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