By Kristin Hubing
“Your wardrobe is about to get a significant upgrade,” second-year medical student Michael Simon joked with the audience at the White Coat and Honor Ceremony, hosted by the George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) this Saturday.
The White Coat and Honor Code ceremony is a rite of passage held at schools across the country to welcome first-year medical students. This year, friends and families watched GW’s 190 first-year medical students receive their white coats, sign the school’s honor code and recite the SMHS oath.
The event also featured remarks from Mr. Simon, who co-chaired the event with second-year students Divya Chalikonda and Margarita Ramos; President Steven Knapp; Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of SMHS Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81; second-year medical student Travis Hase; and keynote speaker Mark Surrey, M.D. ’72, clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Dr. Surrey is also a reproductive surgeon and the co-founder and medical director of the Southern California Reproductive Center, the region’s leading fertility center.
Mr. Simon encouraged the incoming class to “revel in the feelings you have right now as you anticipate that moment when you slip your arms into the sleeves of your new identity — a GW medical student.”
He introduced Dr. Knapp, who welcomed the M.D. class of 2017 to the 11th oldest medical school in the United States. Dr. Knapp praised their dedication to a “long and arduous, but we also hope a joyous road of preparation.”
“You have chosen to come to the George Washington University because you know that here you will learn the art of medicine in a vibrant urban setting, which also happens to be the seat of power and policy in the modern world,” Dr. Knapp said.
He also urged the new students to become involved in D.C.’s many opportunities “for hands-on learning, direct service and cultural enrichment, as well as opportunities to explore the profound connections between the care of patients and the broader public health and public policy context that will affect every aspect of you and your patients’ lives.”
Dr. Akman congratulated the incoming class and offered three pieces of advice inspired by the life of the university’s namesake, George Washington.
“One, aspire to greatness. Two, be prepared for revolutionary change in medicine, in science, in health care policy and, most importantly, in your identity. And three, never forget that honesty and integrity are the central components of the physician identity,” Dr. Akman said.
Dr. Akman encouraged the students to wear the white coat proudly and to hold themselves in uprightness and honor on their path toward earning a medical degree.
Mr. Hase told the students that working in a city as uniquely diverse as Washington, D.C., offered them a chance to learn from a variety of patients.
“One day you may be treating a member of Congress, and the next, it may be the homeless veteran you pass by each day,” Mr. Hase said. “Learn about their cultures as well. Medicine is a profession of the human experience and physicians interact with their patients at the level that makes us all human.”
During the keynote, Dr. Surrey referred to the students as the new gatekeepers of the world’s health, and challenged them to “stay in the moment and enjoy where you are, and do so with integrity.” He acknowledged that the next four years would not be easy, but recalled a phrase his father often used — “You get nothing for nothing.”
“You’re going to have to work hard,” Dr. Surrey said, “but you’re on your way to the most exciting journey you could possibly have.”
Following Dr. Surrey’s remarks, SMHS’ newest M.D. students crossed the stage one-by-one as their names and educational backgrounds were read aloud. Dr. Akman helped each student into his or her white coat and ushered them to sign the school’s honor code.
Once every student had put on their white coat and signed the code, Dr. Akman led them in the recitation of the SMHS oath.
“We recognize the excellence and commitment of those from whom we will learn,” the students recited. “We promise to pursue responsibly our calling to patient care, to service and to research. We commit ourselves to the highest standards of academic honesty, scientific integrity and ethical practice as students and in our professional lives.”
With that, the M.D. class of 2017’s journey to becoming physicians officially began.