Publisher's note: The author of this post, Jules Norwood, is a contributor to ECU News Services.
Third-year medical student Caitlin Durr was wearing a white coat in 90-degree heat at noon on Friday, but she still had goosebumps.
She was preparing to lead her newest classmates in a pledge of ethics as part of the 17th white coat ceremony at East Carolina University's Brody School of Medicine.
The annual ceremony, now held at most medical schools since its inception around 25 years ago, bestows medical students with the white coats they will wear throughout their education. Helping to welcome Brody's class of 2020 brought back fond memories of Durr's own ceremony.
"You work so hard in undergrad to become a medical student,"
said Durr, who serves as chair of the medical student council. "Receiving the white coat is hugely symbolic. Getting to stand with your new classmates means so much. It's great to see them joining the rest of our community."
The 80 students who walked across the stage of the Brody auditorium comprise one of the most competitive classes in the school's 40-year history. Amid 1,020 applicants, each accepted student had to beat out 12 others.
As accomplished as these students are, they have a lot to learn, but they'll do it together and learn from faculty who were once in the same place, according to keynote speaker Dr. Danielle Walsh, associate professor in the Department of Surgery.
"We didn't bring you here because of what you already know. We brought you here because of who you will become,"
Walsh said. "You are here because we saw something in you that we know would be valuable to patients: a kind heart, caring, understanding, determination, commitment."
The white coat is a powerful symbol, Walsh continued. "Make your coat a symbol of your caring for [your patients]. Wear it with honesty and integrity and with love for your fellow man."
The coats were provided by 62 alumni and current and former faculty members, according to Dr. David Collier, president of the Brody School of Medicine Alumni Society. Some left notes to the students who would receive the coats.
"These alumni are eager to share their knowledge with you,"
Collier told the students. "Please consider these sponsoring alumni as mentors, someone you can reach out to for advice, questions and encouragement. We want to hear from you and help you succeed."
The fact that the coats come from alumni makes the ceremony particularly poignant, according to Dr. Elizabeth Baxley, senior associate dean for academic affairs. "It represents the passing of wisdom and support. It is a gift of faith, confidence and compassion."
Incoming Brody student Danae Massengill is closer than most to a Brody alumna. Her mother Susan Massengill graduated from Brody in 1987, specializing in pediatric nephrology.
"That was what I knew growing up,"
said Danae, who is from Charlotte. "She was my inspiration. We also lost my dad when I was younger, so I always knew I wanted to go into health care."
After completing her undergraduate degree out of state, Danae knew she wanted to come back to North Carolina and be closer to family.
"That close-knit feel is what drew me to Brody,"
she said. "I was comforted hearing that the physicians were once in our shoes."
That family environment has always been there, according to Susan. "Brody is very student and service oriented. That's something I realized even more after I left. Now it's come full circle. My time here was so great. I hope she experiences the same thing."
Medicine is a family affair for incoming medical student Austin Flick, though he's the first in his family to attend Brody. His father Conrad Flick went to medical school at Duke, and his mother Anita Flick attended the UNC School of Medicine. His older sister Alyse Flick is a nurse who also went to Chapel Hill. Both sets of his grandparents were also in attendance. Several family members have undergraduate degrees from N.C. State, but they all understood and supported Austin's decision to come to ECU.
"He knew this was the best fit,"
"We're very proud,"
said Austin's grandmother JoAnne Flick, who has seen her share of medical ceremonies in the family. "He's a very compassionate person. He'll make an excellent student here."
"I've never been so excited or happy,"
said Austin. "The ceremony reaffirmed my decision to come here. It really feels like I'm joining a family. I was considering other places, but the people I met on interviews at Brody represented the values my grandparents taught me. I know I made the right choice."