EDINBURG - The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine celebrated another first on Saturday when it welcomed its first 55 students into the medical profession with the inaugural White Coat Ceremony.

 

Families, School of Medicine faculty, state and local dignitaries and others in attendance cheered as the students entered the Performing Arts Complex auditorium.

Dr. Leonel Vela, senior associate dean for education and academic affairs, called the ceremony “an auspicious experience.”

“This moving ceremony is intended to impress upon them the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship,” he said. “It encourages them to enter into a social contract in which they accept the obligations inherent in the practice of medicine.”

The Arnold P. Gold Foundation started the White Coat Ceremony in 1993 to welcome new medical students to the health care profession. Today, about 97 percent of medical schools in the United States, as well as schools for other healthcare professions, perform such ceremonies.

White Coat ceremonies serve as a rite of passage for medical school students. Each student, carrying a white coat, walked across the stage and had Interim Dean Dr. Steven A. Lieberman and Founding Dean Dr. Francisco Fernandez helped them don the coat for the first time.

After the cloaking, medical student Rouzbeh Kotaki led his fellow medical students in taking the Hippocratic Oath, which acknowledges their primary role as caregivers, in front of their loved ones, school leaders and peers.

Throughout the ceremony, students heard encouraging words from The University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven, UTRGV President Guy Bailey, UTRGV Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, as well as Fernandez and Lieberman.

Dr. Darrell Kirch, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, delivered the keynote address, recounting some of his own experiences as a medical student. He stressed that patients should be at the forefront of everything they do, and cited the four key principles of medical ethics – beneficence, do no harm, patient autonomy and social justice.

He said this School of Medicine, and they, as students here, have a chance to promote social justice in healthcare by bringing care to people in medically underserved areas.

“This is where we struggle as a profession and where we struggle as a nation,” he said. “I look at health care all around this country and the thing that saddens me the most is, despite being the richest, the most powerful nation on earth, we are a country in which there are healthcare haves and healthcare have nots. … Promise that you’ll join with me. Let’s try turning our attention to creating a just system.”

After the ceremony, the medical students said they are honored to be a part of the inaugural class and hope to serve the Rio Grande Valley well.

Cristina Cepeda, who grew up in Edinburg and attended Donna ISD schools before graduating with a bachelor’s degree from UT Pan American in 2014, said her parents instilled in her the importance of earning a college degree. Now that the medical school has come, she said, she has been able to exceed her family’s expectations, earning her medical degree at home and giving back to the community that has supported her.

“I grew up seeing the necessities of my community and knowing that now I can stay here while I’m learning medicine and then apply it to my own community,” she said. “It’s a dream.”

Shawn Izadi, a Coppell, Texas, native and graduate of UT Austin, said he came to UTRGV because he likes being a trendsetter and was taken by the innovative curriculum and caring faculty and staff.

“This is truly an amazing environment,” he said. “The community is here for us. I knew this was the place to be.”

There was a private reception following the White Coat Ceremony for students and their families at the Medical Education Building. The reception included a short program during which Texas senators Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Eddie Lucio Jr. presented the School of Medicine with a resolution commemorating the milestone.