Thursday, September 18, 2008

LOCAL: University Of Pennsylvania Welcomes New Medical Students

(previously published here at

Philadelphia - At a ceremony full of family, friends, tradition and responsibility on Friday, each member of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine's entering class of 2008 had the opportunity to give personal speeches and thanks, to faculty, their family and friends.

Faculty members also welcomed the 154-strong class, imparting words of wisdom. Their counsel was rooted in the UPenn School of Medicine's austere and prestigious history to imbue the responsibility of becoming a medical professional.

In his keynote speech, Henry W. Foster, Jr., M.D., professor emeritus and former dean of the school, told students that the white coat symbolizes professionalism to remember that "healthcare is the most fundamental [life challenge]."

He said, "Factors invoking change in the medical system seem to be deprofessionalizing medicine ... [and] the American healthcare system is in the midst of reformation ... [But] change is not the enemy - it's a fact. ... I'm depending on you to [impart] change."

In their personal remarks, students revealed the diversity and breadth of their collective education and backgrounds, peppering the solemn occasion with thanks - and apologies - to parents, family and friends, and jokes about what they have accomplished and what lies ahead.

The new class hails from 30 states and 61 colleges, and bring experience in everything from biology and anthropology to East Asian languages and computer science. One student, Kathryn Cunningham Hall, even started a nonprofit called Power Up Gambia! to fundraise and install solar panels to provide clean water and electricity to a Gambian hospital in West Africa.

The ceremony in which students don white coats varies from school to school, but all emphasize the responsibility and respectful care that the credibility granted by the coat requires.

After donning their white coats, students were welcomed by UPenn alum, Louis Matis, M.D., president and CEO of the Immune Tolerance Institute, who gave 154 stethoscopes to the incoming class. Then the students, as well as any family who were also doctors, recite the Hippocratic Oath, which provides standards and a core set of professional values to be followed by all physicians.

On the White Coat Ceremony, first-year student Kannie Chim, of Upper Darby, noted that she didn't know what the ceremony would entail, and "liked how it was personal, with everyone speaking for themselves ... It'll be intense, but I hear Penn students have fun, too."

Shanna Sprinkle, 22, from Oklahoma by way of Baltimore was also inspired by the ceremony.

"Going in wearing different things and coming out [looking] the same, it was symbolic and equalizing," she said.

Parents and family members were equally excited and impressed, especially after the school provided a special orientation day for families, where faculty introduced them to the curriculum and other anticipations that the students will go through over the next four years.

For John McLaughlin, whose eldest son Eamon is starting at Penn this year, the entire ceremony made him "extremely proud [since he] knows how hard he worked to get here."

When asked what appealed to them about UPenn and PennMed, first-year students were of the same mind in emphasizing the power of the people. As Eamon McLaughlin, 22, a first-year from Wilmington, Del., declared, "everyone is laid-back, not cutthroat... that was really the selling point for me."

"I've never been in a group of people so outgoing, bubbly and full of life in my life," said David Guttmann, a first-year from Abingdon who is considering pursuing oncology. "[This] bodes well for the future of medicine that people can communicate [and bond] with patients. Penn did a good job [of picking us]."

As Jon B. Morris, M.D., a professor of surgery, said, "[the ceremony is us] welcoming the students into the family. ... All the family came - involving them is an integral part of this process."

At the UPenn School of Medicine, students learn within the themes of Science of Medicine, the Art and Practice of Medicine, and Professionalism and Humanism, while also engaging in a four-year patient-centered "Doctoring" course where pairs of students follow a chronically ill patient to understand the effect of care on patients and family. First year classes begin today.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine is the nation's first teaching medical school and one of the top research-based medical schools. Along with the UPenn Health System, the school is part of Penn Medicine, an enterprise dedicated to the inter-related missions of patient care, education and research. Its "White Coat Ceremony" was established in 1996 to build on a tradition symbolizing the clinical beginning of every student's medical education.

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

No comments: