First-year medical students smile during the White Coat Ceremony, held Aug. 4 on the Health Sciences Campus. (Photo/Ricardo Carrasco III)

One of medicine’s hallowed traditions was celebrated on a warm August afternoon at the Health Sciences Campus, as the Keck School of Medicine of USC incoming class of medical students donned their white coats for the first time.

“Your white coat represents an extraordinary privilege and a solemn responsibility,” said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, dean of the Keck School. “This is your first step down a path that will bring you much joy and great satisfaction.”

Physicians must not only commit to provide compassionate medical treatment, but also work to form strong, positive bonds with those in their care, Varma said.

First-year medical students recite the Hippocratic Oath during the White Coat Ceremony, held Aug. 4 on the Health Sciences Campus. (Photo/Ricardo Carrasco III)

“At the Keck School of Medicine, we have long recognized the importance of the bond between physicians and their patients,” Varma added. “You have to continue to strive to be positive and optimistic with your patients. Your inner strength has no limits.”

The white coat ceremony is held at the start of each academic year, symbolizing a student’s first step on their journey in medicine. After receiving their white coat, each student’s name was read aloud as they walked across the stage to shake Varma’s hand. Friends and family members applauded as the names were read, waving programs to fan away the midsummer heat.

A physician’s greatest teachers are often their patients, said keynote speaker Stephanie Zia, MD, clinical assistant professor of medicine (clinician educator) and assistant dean for career advising.

“Get to know the patient behind the diagnosis,” said Zia, also a Keck School graduate. “Advocate on their behalf. My hope for each of you is to care for your patients as you would a loved one.”

The Aug. 4 ceremony concluded with students reciting the Hippocratic Oath, a rite of passage binding physicians to the highest ethical and professional standards.

A first-year medical student poses with Keck School Dean Rohit Varma during the White Coat Ceremony, held Aug. 4 on the Health Sciences Campus. (Photo/Ricardo Carrasco III)

“This ceremony symbolizes the start of one of the greatest journeys life has to offer,” said Henri Ford, MD, MHA, vice dean for medical education and professor of surgery at the Keck School. “Few other professions can boast such a significant impact on the lives of others.”

Students come to the Keck School from across the U.S. and world. The Class of 2021 is composed of 186 first-year medical students from 56 universities. These students were born in 23 countries outside the U.S., speaking 26 different languages.

“I was attracted to the Keck School because of the opportunity to interact with patients from the first step and work with exceptional faculty members,” said Priya Bhattacharjee, a first-year medical student and Bay Area native who earned her bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from the University of California, Berkeley. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the Keck School’s commitment to the patient experience.”

— Douglas Morino

First-year medical students applaud during the White Coat Ceremony, held Aug. 4 on the Health Sciences Campus. (Photo/Ricardo Carrasco III)

First-year medical students don their white coats for the first time during the White Coat Ceremony, held Aug. 4 on the Health Sciences Campus. (Photo/Ricardo Carrasco III)