College of Nursing Class of 2023 Dons White Coats as Clinical Training Begins

By Linda Satter

As the ceremony in the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute began, a single-file line of nursing students in black dress scrubs, each holding a white coat draped over their right arm, gradually filled several rows at the front of the auditorium.

Later, after listening to remarks and reciting the Nightingale Pledge, each row of students rose separately to line up by the edge of the stage for each student’s individual walk across. Each stopped in the center to be helped into their new white coats by faculty members Taylor Steele, clinic instructor, and Dona Friend, clinical assistant professor, as fellow students applauded. Each then returned to their seats, joining a growing sea of white at the front of the auditorium.

Altogether, 109 nursing students received their white coats, although four were unable to attend the ceremony.

Family members and friends of the students, who are entering the clinical part of their training in the five-semester nursing program at UAMS, were no doubt applauding as they watched the livestreamed ceremony from other locations – a requirement to alleviate ongoing coronavirus concerns. However, a few family and friends gathered outside the front door of the institute, eager to congratulate the students in person and snap pictures as they emerged in their white coats.

Patricia Cowan, Ph.D., RN, and dean of the College of Nursing, was among a handful of faculty members who joined the students in the auditorium to help mark the students’ transition from working on manikins to working with actual patients.

Nursing students stand in the auditorium to ecite the Nightingale Pledge

Nursing students recite the Nightingale Pledge before being coated.

Students who complete the program will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, which will enable them to pursue licensing as a registered nurse. Graduates can also apply to continue their education in a master’s degree or doctoral degree program, several of which are offered at UAMS.

In her welcoming address, Cowan told the students, “Nurses are the backbone of the health care profession in the United States.”  She said the students will learn during their hands-on experiences how nurses “play a critical role” in every clinical setting.

She also urged them to keep in mind the significance of the roles they will play in the lives of patients.

“We’re present in peoples’ lives from birth to adulthood and at the end of life also,” Cowan said, explaining that the white coat symbolizes a commitment to providing compassionate care to all persons.

Fermin Renteria, DNP, APRN, who directs the college’s baccalaureate education program at UAMS, told the students that the ceremony also recognizes “the hard work of a dedicated group of students.”

He explained that white coat ceremonies for nurses began in the United States in 2014 as a way of acknowledging and honoring their importance in the medical community.

Margaret Love, DNP, APRN, a clinical instructor in the college, gave the alumni address. She spoke about what caring for actual patients has meant to her, telling students, “Nursing often shines a light on some of the darkest and most tragic times of individuals and of a nation.”

She urged the students to always wear their white coats proudly, even when they get dirty.

“Each stain represents a choice you made or a challenge you have overcome,” she said, just before Lakedra Maxie, president of the Student Nursing Association, led the group in reciting the Nightingale Pledge. Named in honor of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, the pledge is a statement of ethics and principles of the nursing profession.

“To the Class of 2023,” Renteria announced to cheers after all the white coats had been donned, “congratulations on reaching this significant milestone in your academic journey!”