College of Medicine Freshmen Don White Coats to Start Med School Journey

By Amy Widner

Reassurance. Competence. Professionalism. Cleanliness. Responsibility. Trust.

For patients, yes, but what about for the College of Medicine Class of 2023? Its 174 members donned their white coats for the first time during the White Coat Ceremony, held at Robinson Auditorium before a crowd of family, friends and faculty.

Masangkay at podium

Neil Masangkay, M.D., assistant professor of neurology, gives the keynote address.Bryan Clifton

For the medical students, the white coat ceremony marks a transition to a new journey, said Neil Masangkay, M.D., assistant professor of neurology and director of the neurology medical clerkship.

“The journey that you are embarking on is a difficult one,” Masangkay said. “Your days will vacillate between moments of terror, sorrow and joy. How do you survive those highs and those lows? I think the most important principle is the simplest: Caring.”

Crowd shot in Robinson Auditorium

The ceremony was held at Robinson Auditorium.Bryan Clifton

Masangkay told the freshmen to be prepared to make sacrifices as physicians. Missed events, a lack of sleep, and disappointing friends and family with cancelations — it all comes with the job.

“You will get thanked for your work, but often in unexpected ways,” Masangkay said. “I know many physicians who receive food and thank you cards. The most recent gift I received from a patient was a box of Marvel super hero Band-Aids.”

Dr. Wheeler shaking hands with student

Richard P. Wheeler, M.D., executive associate dean for academic affairs, congratulates students as they exit the stage.Bryan Clifton

Masangkay told the students to “grow your passion” rather than to simply follow it. To do this, he said, students must adopt a craftsman mindset to their work and dedicate themselves to the effort needed to master the art of medicine.

“To achieve mastery, you will have to learn to toil through long hours when you don’t want to review anatomy anymore, when you don’t want to practice that physical examination or surgical technique, when you would rather sit down and catch up on Netflix,” Masangkay said. “The ability to constantly push yourself to improve is perhaps the most important part of becoming a satisfied and passionate physician.”

Chancellor Patterson at mic

UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, encourages the students to be kind to each other and become an active part of Team UAMS.Bryan Clifton

Lastly, Masangkay urged the students to not lose sight of themselves during their journey to becoming physicians. Make sure to care for yourself, he said.

“Care for your family, care for yourself,” Masangkay said. “Although we serve an important calling in our professional lives, there is no calling more important than the one that we serve for our friends, our family and ourselves.”

When it came time for the students to put on their coats, they first recited the medical student oath together, pledging to conduct themselves with integrity, compassion, collaboration and a commitment to medicine. They then crossed the stage one at a time. Each student was allowed to select special people to help them put on their white coats, or they were aided by representatives of their respective “houses” — smaller groups the students stay in throughout medical school for peer support and faculty guidance.

Dr. Westfall at mic

College of Medicine Dean Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., addresses the audience.Bryan Clifton

The students also heard from UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA; College of Medicine Dean Christopher T. Westfall, M.D.; and Dennis Yelvington, M.D., president of the Arkansas Medical Society.

Patterson urged them to care for each other during their medical school journey and to act like team players during their four years as part of the wider UAMS community.

“This white coat will be a link that connects you to everyone in your class,” Patterson said. “You don’t understand it now, but you will create a bond together among some of the strongest of your lifetime.”

Dr. Yelvington at the mic

Dennis Yelvington, M.D., president of the Arkansas Medical SocietyBryan Clifton

Patterson encouraged the students to think about Edith Irby Jones, M.D., who in 1948 became the first African American to enroll in an all-white medical school in the South when she began her education at UAMS. She graduated from UAMS four years later and went on to have a distinguished career. Patterson asked the students to consider her bravery, but also how her classmates ideally would have treated her.

“Think about that level of respect, appreciation and encouragement that you hoped they gave Edith Irby Jones, and I want you to share that same level of respect, appreciation and encouragement with the people you will be working alongside at UAMS, 10,000-plus strong, over the next four years,” Patterson said.

Student adjusting white coat

Image by Bryan Clifton

Westfall told the students about his recent experience during the birth of his first grandchild.

“As you put on your white coat for the first time, and each time from now on, please remember what it stands for from the perspective of your patients and their families,” he said.

“Because of those things symbolized by the resident’s white coat — knowledge, trust and care — I relaxed,” he said. “I relaxed as a dad, a soon-to-be grandpa, and a very nervous incognito doctor and dean of the College of Medicine.”