Medical students embrace loved ones at the white coat ceremony
Hugs from vaccinated friends and family were a welcome feature of the 2021 White Coat ceremonies, after no in-person ceremony was held in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Perelman School of Medicine students resume the White Coat tradition.

The annual White Coat ceremony welcoming new students to the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania looked a little different this year — students donned their own coats at their seats, instead of being robed onstage by faculty members, and smiles were hidden behind face masks, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Plus: It happened twice.

As a result of the limitations on large gatherings in 2020, both last year’s and this year’s entering classes had their own in-person ceremonies in Irvine Auditorium in September 2021. For the 156 MS1s, White Coat marked their entry into the profession, including saying the Declaration of Geneva (a modern version of the Hippocratic Oath) for the first time as a public declaration of their commitment. For the 155 MS2s, who already had a year of medical school — much of it virtual — under their belts, it was a promise kept, and the chance to partake in a time-honored ritual that was scuttled last year in the name of safety.

Some parts of the event were the same, with a series of remarks from faculty members and deans, keynote speeches on topics including the meaning and value of the white coat, and the importance of remembering “the why” that inspires each person to become a doctor, as well as recognition of the stethoscopes generously donated by alumnus Louis Matis, MD’75 (the MS2s received theirs last year).

First-year medical students received their stethoscopes at the White Coat ceremony.But although students didn’t get to experience the rare thrill of being robed in their white coats by their teachers, they still got individual moments to shine: Each took a turn to cross the stage, where their photographs and hometowns were projected, and each used their chance to share a fun fact about themselves as well as briefly thank family and friends for support. For instance, MS1 Quynh-Anh Dang used the opportunity to say hello to her twin sister, also receiving her own white coat at a different institution, who was watching the Perelman ceremony on a Facebook livestream.

Although everyone wore a face mask in the interest of protection from COVID-19, students’ voices rang loud with pride and excitement as they recited the Declaration of Geneva from their seats. It was an emotional moment for students and faculty alike, solemnizing their official commitment to the medical profession.

Outside after the ceremony, the masks came off as vaccinated students celebrated the momentous occasion with hugs from their classmates and loved ones. The happy scenes echoed the comments of MS1 Jacob Niculcea from his turn at the microphone: “I’m just really grateful we have this ceremony today. So, like, a shout-out to the faculty for pulling it through!”

— Meredith Mann

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