The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine welcomed its first 55 students into the medical profession with the inaugural White Coat Ceremony July 23. Families, School of Medicine faculty, state and local dignitaries and others in attendance cheered as the students entered the Performing Arts Complex auditorium at the Edinburg campus.
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 Fernández 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.
“This moving ceremony is intended to impress upon them the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship,” said Dr. Leonel Vela, senior associate dean for Education and Academic Affairs. “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.
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.”