Coats on, class of 2017

Wendy Hsiao poses with flowers from family after receiving her white coat.
Photos by Sara Reeve

By Ryan Ball

As the Keck School of Medicine of USC’s first-year students waited eagerly in Mayer Auditorium on Aug. 16 for the start of the annual White Coat ceremony, Sarah Wheeler was following instructions on how to fold her crisply pressed lab coat and drape it over her arm just right.

“For me, it symbolizes putting others above yourself, and committing yourself to being a life-long learner and teacher,” said 28-year-old Wheeler, who earned a Masters in Epidemiology and pursued a career in research before deciding she really wanted to interact with patients.

First-year student Sarah Wheeler gets some help with her coat from Keck School Dean Carmen A. Puliafito.

Michael Opene, who has an interest in sports medicine and solving medical mysteries like the title character in the TV drama  “House,” came to the ceremony with some perspective from those who came before.

“I hear some of the second- and third-year students say that when they’re feeling down and going through a rough patch, they’ll look at that white coat with their name on it and think, ‘Look at how much I’ve accomplished to get here. I can do this,’ and it kind of fires them up.” Opene remarked.

Michael Opene waits with classmates for the ceremonial donning of the coat.

As the Trojan fight song played, it was time to walk onto the Harry and Celesta Pappas quad to the cheers of supportive family and friends. 

Keck School Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, noted how exciting it will be for him to witness the ongoing metamorphosis of the 186 young people assembled before him. “Today, they are suddenly grown up and ready to embark on a journey that will lead to their becoming smart, hard-working and, most importantly, compassionate physicians,” he said.

Vice Dean for Medical Education Henri Ford, MD, MHA, likened the next four years to an Olympic event in which being a top finisher is far less important than running a good race. Ford asked, “Will you ignore your partner who is stumbling, or will you try to support him or her?”

Keynote speaker Jeffrey Canceko, MD, recipient of the school’s 2013 Humanism in Medicine Award, reflected on being a first-year medical school student at Georgetown University as the events of Sept. 11, 2001 played out. Walking through a hospital on his way home, he was inspired by the sight of fourth-year medical students putting their own fears aside while putting their white coats on, preparing for whatever may come.

“This is why you worked so hard to get here,” Canceko said. “This is why you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before, and will learn more than you ever thought possible. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

The class of 2017 concludes the ceremony with a reading of the Hippocratic Oath.

The Keck School of Medicine’s was the first of several white coat ceremonies taking place on the Health Sciences and University Park campuses.

The USC School of Pharmacy will hold its white coat ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 22, on the Harry and Celesta Pappas Quad. Below is a list of the remaining white coat ceremonies:

• Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Monday, Sept. 9, from 5 to 7p.m. in Bovard Auditorium on the University Park campus. There will be a reception for attendees before the ceremony, at 4 p.m. in Founders Park.

• Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at the School of Dentistry. Thursday, Aug. 29, at 6 p.m. The ceremony will be preceded by a reception on the lawn behind the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research on the Health Sciences Campus.

• Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the School of Dentistry of USC. Friday, Aug. 30, at 5 p.m. on the lawn behind the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research on the Health Sciences Campus.

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