Graduating College of Medicine Class Breaks Tradition, Makes History

By Amy Widner

It became clear in the days leading up to the ceremony that the students might not all receive their academic robes and hoods in time because of manufacturing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. COM leadership hurried to execute Plan B: borrowing robes for the 163 graduates for them to wear as they socially distanced at home during an Honors Convocation – brought together by Zoom videoconferencing for the students, Facebook Live for family and friends to watch, plus a little creativity and patience from everyone involved.

The response was overwhelming. One-hundred-and-twenty-five previous graduates and faculty lent regalia so that the seniors would have something to wear on graduation day. One donor shipped the robe and hood overnight from Oklahoma. Staff busily collected, labeled, altered and distributed the regalia at breakneck speed in order to pull it all off.

“So, tonight, many of our seniors are wearing the robes owned by either previous graduates or our faculty,” said James Graham, M.D., the college’s executive associate dean for academic affairs.

Student being hooded

Image by Sam Giannavola

Graham was speaking from UAMS in the Fred W. Smith Conference Center in the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, where the faculty had gathered, spaced out.

“In this ceremony so filled with symbolism, the fact that you are wearing the robe and soon the hood of one who came before is certainly symbolic of your joining the profession and passing of the torch to a new generation,” Graham said.

Student being hooded

Image by Sam Giannavola

Many aspects of the Honors Convocation date back centuries: the recitation of the Oath of Hippocrates; the donning of academic robes and hoods decorated with colors and cords, each conferring their own meaning. All are meant to lend a sense of officialdom and connection to the past as the graduating medical students arrive at the moment when their hard work pays off and they actually – finally – become doctors.

The pandemic caused by the new coronavirus made much of that ceremony impossible. It was just one more big change in a spring that has marked a series of disruptions for the Class of 2020.

Dr. Sward at mic

Lindsey Sward, M.D., was selected by the M4 students to give the faculty charge.Sam Giannavola

“I know this is not what you guys wanted this night to look like,” said Lindsey Sward, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, selected by the students to give the faculty address. “Believe me, it’s not what we wanted it to look like either, but in spite of the borrowed regalia, which was quite a feat, and the Zoom and the Facebook Live and all the social distancing, I hope this still feels important to you, because it is. It’s a culmination of years of hard work and dedication, and nothing can take that away from you.”

Jordan Fielding, vice president of the Class of 2020, acknowledged these disappointments as part of his address to his peers, who voted to select him for the honor.

Fielding addressing the audience

Jordan Fielding, vice president of the Class of 2020, addresses the audience.Sam Giannavola

“This is not what we envisioned. No one wants to sit alone in a room talking to a computer – unless you’re going into radiology,” Fielding said.

All joking aside, he continued, charging his classmates to use each patient interaction going forward to not only heal, but to also solidify a relationship of trust between physicians and patients in an uncertain world. A flurry of hearts, likes, and cares symbols flew across the Facebook Live stream and the comments of congratulations continued to pour in as Fielding gave his address.

“I believe this was our first real act as physicians, and what is says is we would put the needs of others over the needs of ourselves.” Fielding said.

Faculty in the audience

The faculty gathered at UAMS, practicing social distancing and wearing masks, for the hooding ceremony.Sam Giannavola

In his remarks, College of Medicine Dean Christopher T. Westfall, M.D., who is also executive vice chancellor of UAMS, said he is confident the Class of 2020 will rise to the occasion. He encouraged the students to think back to why they wanted to become doctors in the first place.

“You applied to medical school because you want to serve others,” Westfall said. “Like generations of physicians behind you, you felt a call to serve humanity. And remember that past generations have faced incredible challenges, too, things like polio and HIV. So now it is your time to step up to the task. You are part of the reason we will prevail in this health crisis.”

Dr. Westfall at podium

College of Medicine Dean Christopher T. Westfall, M.D. addresses the students and faculty.Sam Giannavola

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, also characterized the students as history-makers and emphasized the important role they will serve in the days and months ahead.

“This isn’t the way you dreamed you would make history, but here you are,” Hutchinson said in videoed remarks. “The COVID-19 pandemic is a historic event and your graduation is part of it. But this is only the first chapter of the history you’re going to live out.

“We will be talking about COVID-19 for a long time, no area of life has escaped its touch, but we will look back from the other side of this and see it brought out the best of us.”

Dr. Graham at podium

James Graham, M.D., the college’s executive associate dean for academic affairs, served as master of ceremonies.Sam Giannavola

In his remarks, Patterson said the virtual event did not diminish the students’ accomplishments, in fact, it underscored them, and showed that they were able to rise to the occasion of finishing the school year despite its many disruptions. He said they showed resiliency and the ability to adapt – qualities that will continue to be important.

“You’re graduating into a world where your skills will be in demand. Moreover, we still do not know the impact this pandemic will have on the future of health care,” Patterson said, noting that it is UAMS’ mission to improve health care in Arkansas and beyond. “We’re counting on you to help us achieve a better state of health.”

As the faculty clapped from their six-foot-spaced seats and smiled behind masks, each student unmuted themselves on Zoom in order to don their hoods. Sara Tariq, M.D., associate dean for student affairs, and Jason Mizell, M.D., associate professor of surgery, were on stage to cheer each student on and would have helped with the hooding at an in-person event. Many of the students were with family or friends. Some popped bottles of champagne or let out whoops of delight.

When it came time for Westfall to lead the students in the Oath of Hippocrates, a projector screen full of Zoom squares showed the smiling faces of the students. More than one wiped away tears. United by technology, they embraced both tradition and the non-traditional, as the students prepare to embark on the uncertain road ahead.

“These principles have been with us for centuries as and they are as valid today as they were at the outset. The tenants are as timeless and as timely as they have always been,” Westfall said. “It is my distinct pleasure to be able to recite the Oath of Hippocrates with you.”

The following awards were also announced at the Honors Convocation:

Golden Apple Awards for Outstanding Teachers

Resident of the Year

Chosen by the senior class:

  • Morgan Moore, M.D., and Nick Tingquist, M.D.

Buchanan Key

Awarded annually to an outstanding senior student, voted on by fellow seniors as a physician of quality:

  • Hannah McCarthy

Excellence in Public Health from the U.S. Public Health Service

  • Amy James, M.D., MPH, for a project with the Marshallese population in Arkansas

Winston K. Shorey Award

Awarded annually to an outstanding senior, voted on by their classmates, for compassion, warmth and kindness:

  • John Dehnel

Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award

Presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the award recognizes humanism and compassion in the delivery of medical care, voted on by the senior class for empathy, sensitivity, ethical standards, and concern for the welfare of the community:

  • Morgan Tripod


Joseph Thomas Roberts Key

Presented to students with a perfect. 4.0 grade point average:

Scarlett-Marie Acklin

Hunter James Bane

Hannah A. Burroff

Hunter Cassidy Cochran

Scott Lawrence Cole

Andrew J. Couture

Layne Dailey

John R. Dehnel

Thomas John Fiedorek

Grant B. Fortson

Michael B. Franzetti

Sarah Kathryn Gammill

Anna Celeste Gibson

Sara Rebekah Goldsholl

Santiago R. Gonzalez

Decota Matthew Halsted

Ryan Daniel Holt

Amy Nicole James

David Alexander Kilgore

Nicholas Stanley Kowalczyk

Jeremy G. Light

Hannah Grace McCarthy

Lara Crawford McHan

Trevor D. Meece

Daniel Gregory Meeker

Emily Miller

John David Patterson

Ashton Jae Porter

Corey Steven Post

Bradley Douglas Shields

Thomas Lee Soehner

Haley Birch Taylor

Erin E. Yancey

Mason William Young


Departmental Awards

The Marie Wilson Howells Medical Student Award is given by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science to a student who has performed at the highest level in the Department over the full four years: Erin Yancey.

The Richard V. Ebert Award is given by the Department of Internal Medicine in honor of a former chair of that department.  It is given to a student who shows promise of making significant contributions to medicine in the future: Madeleine Williams.

The Susan Campbell Rector Memorial Scholarship is awarded by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology to the most outstanding senior female medical student who has chosen Ob/Gyn for a career: Lettie Hattabaugh Odom.

The Department of Pediatrics gives the W.T. Dungan Award each year to recognize excellence in pediatric medicine: Matthew Bradley and Ryan Steele.

The George F. Stroope Award from the Department of Pediatrics is given to a senior student who is pursuing a career in pediatrics and who achieved the highest academic standing in pediatrics during their junior year: Thomas Fiedorek.

The Richard J. Webber Research Award is presented each year to a graduating senior by the Department of Pathology for outstanding research: Jessica Lavergne.

The Student National Medical Association award for outstanding achievement in the College of Medicine: Sasha Ray.

The Edward Forrest Ellis Award is given by the Department of Surgery to the senior student showing the most promise in that field: Abby Deloach.

The Tricia Edstrom UAMS Northwest Award is given to the UAMS Northwest senior student who, according to peers and preceptors, made the greatest academic contribution while training at the UAMS Northwest campus: Jessica Bettis.