The virtual event underscored the importance of students’ commitment to health care during a global pandemic.
For more than 25 years, first-year medical students have participated in a rite of passage known as the white coat ceremony. The ceremony marks the beginning of their training, with students receiving a short white coat symbolizing their journey to earn the long white coat they’ll wear as physicians.
The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine held its first white coat ceremony on October 13, 2020. Given the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, the event was reimagined as a virtual gathering, attended by students and their family members and friends, faculty, and school leadership.
“You have begun some of the toughest and most rewarding years of your career,” said Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, founding dean and CEO. “There may be times when you wonder if you are cut out to be a doctor. Let me say this very clearly: Each and every one of you belongs here. We chose you because we believe in you and we know that you are going to be fantastic doctors.”
Following Dr. Schuster’s keynote, the professors introduced the class of 2024, and each student had an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the white coats.
“The white coat represents to me the obligation I have to society for the trust placed in me as a future physician,” commented student Adrian Bahn.
Another student, Maranda Gaines, said, “Receiving this white coat means I am one step closer in the fight for health equity.”
“Our school’s students should wear their white coats proudly as they embark on their training as future physician leaders,” said Holly J. Humphrey, MD, chair of the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine board of directors. “This is an incredible and dynamic group, and the board is thrilled to see our class start its journey.”
The class of 2024 reflects the school’s mission to educate physicians from diverse backgrounds who will become outstanding clinicians and skilled advocates for the health of their patients and communities. Of the 50-member class, 36% are from racial or ethnic backgrounds that are underrepresented in medicine, and 34% are from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Half of the students come from outside of California, where the school is located.
The school’s commitment to equity and diversity was also captured in the community agreement that students recited. Created by the inaugural class, the agreement articulates how the students wish to learn together, touching on their commitments to celebrate and promote diversity, establish a collaborative and supportive learning environment, and hold themselves and their peers accountable for challenging systemic inequalities.
In presenting students their class pins, Kaiser Permanente chairman and CEO Greg Adams reflected on the role of his predecessor, Bernard J. Tyson, in making the school a reality. Following Tyson’s untimely passing in November 2019, the school was renamed in his honor, recognizing his deep commitment to the institution and tireless work on behalf of health equity and community health.
“With the education you receive, you will be able to carry on his legacy, and be change agents for making the health care system more effective,” Adams said.