Dean’s Message: Spring Semester Brings Beginnings, Endings

By News Staff

If you’re unfamiliar with this annual tradition in health care education, students at or near the start of their studies put on their white coats for the first time in a ceremony before family and friends, symbolizing their entry into their career and a commitment to professionalism. The practice began in colleges of medicine and has been adopted by other colleges like ours that are engaged in healthcare education. Very similar to a lab coat, the white coat is working garment and a symbol that distinguishes health care professionals.

Like many traditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, white coat ceremonies moved into the virtual space. Live images streamed on Zoom of students from the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology on May 15 and from the Department of Physician Assistant Studies on May 28 donning their white coats. Each of them was in a different location, usually with family or friends present to help the students put the coats on and celebrate the moment.

One of the privileges I have as dean is being there during these events that mark the start of their professional and academic journeys. These are especially meaningful because I also have the pleasure of being there at their graduations when the journeys are complete.

Students in several of our programs took part in virtual commencement ceremonies late this spring. In addition to Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology students who graduated, they were from the Division of Diagnostic Medical Sonography in the Department of Radiologic Imaging Sciences, the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition, Department of Dental Hygiene, Department of Genetic Counseling, Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and Cardio-Respiratory Care program.

Their achievements felt all the brighter this year for having gone through the gloom of 2020 and the specter of the pandemic.

As of June, 83% of faculty and staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19, much higher than the 41% of the state’s population 12 and up. UAMS also has not changed its policies about mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing. Those measures remain in place even though many states including Arkansas have loosened or removed those requirements for the general public.

I expect and hope that when the 2021-2022 academic year begins in August, we will see students safely return to classrooms in-person and ready to take part in hands-on experiences as they train for their future careers.

The pandemic has been a learning experience for us all. Using Zoom and other online tools, faculty and staff stepped up to keep programs and courses of study on track to the greatest extent they could while maintaining a healthy learning environment. Even the virtual white coat ceremonies and graduations would not have been possible without them. All of us — students, faculty, staff and their families — learned lessons in the “school of hard knocks” taught by COVID-19.

Learning and teaching were challenging endeavors during the pandemic, but I believe it has instilled in all of us a new appreciation for traditional, in-person education. We so far have made it through the public health crisis and persevered. Teachers and students have gained wisdom and new abilities in that time. In that sense, we are all graduates of the class of Twenty-Twenty-WON.