Inaugural White Coat and Pinning Ceremony Celebrates New Miller School Students

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Back in 2001, when the Miller School of Medicine held its first freshman pinning ceremony, Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., a young faculty member and a double UM alumnus, delivered the keynote address welcoming the Class of 2005 to “our noble profession.”

On Friday night, when the Miller School held its first John G. Clarkson Freshman White Coat and Pinning Ceremony, Dr. Mechaber, now senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, delivered another keynote address, this time welcoming the Class of 2023.

Dean Henri R. Ford welcomes the students.
Dean Henri R. Ford welcomes the students.

While much has changed in those 18 years, the fundamentals of what it means to be a physician have not. “You will have the opportunity to transform health care as we know it and become the transformational physicians who will uphold the values expected of physicians and cherished by society,” Dr. Mechaber told the students. “We are counting on you to meet those expectations.”

UM President Julio Frenk, M.D., Ph.D., thanked Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer, for bringing the cherished tradition of the white coat ceremony to the Miller School of Medicine. The white coat symbolizes the trust required to be successful in the medical profession, President Frenk said – trust that is earned by physicians through education and through a commitment to always act in patients’ best interest.

“This white coat is a symbol of authority, a symbol of empowerment, but most importantly it represents a beacon of hope for many suffering patients,” Dean Ford told the students. “The empowerment that this white coat brings cannot be fully realized until you learn to exhibit the following qualities: character, compassion, sensitivity, patience, honesty and integrity. These qualities are the essential scaffold, the fundamental underpinnings of the successful physician.”

The excited physicians-to-be walked across the stage at the Watsco Center on the Coral Gables campus, first putting on their white coat with the help of President Frenk or Dean Ford, and then receiving the Miller School pin from an alumnus. They were greeted by enthusiastic cheers and applause from parents and other family members and friends, and from the proud faculty members seated on stage.

A new two-week course opened medical school for the students, leading up to the white coat ceremony. As part of the Miller School’s reimagining of the medical curriculum, the course is “an opportunity to introduce students to communication skills, a basic understanding of the culture and the population we care for here in Miami,” Dr. Mechaber said. “It gives them a sense of belonging, to both the institution and the community we serve, and it’s an important introduction to what this profession means.”

The crowd cheers for a new medical student.
The crowd cheers for a new medical student.

Students at the white coat ceremony were enthusiastic about this pilot course, the first element of the NextGenMD curriculum the Miller School is creating.

“These first two weeks of introduction to the medical profession have been a great way to create community, a very impactful start on our transition to the medical profession,” said Christina Barkas, who came to UM from San Jose, Calif., with an undergraduate degree from the University of California-Santa Barbara. “We’ve learned a lot about interviewing patients, communication skills, and overall what it means to be part of this profession. I’m getting so excited for the next four years!”

Barkas’ father, Sotos Barkas, shared his daughter’s excitement at the opportunity to celebrate the launch of medical school. “It’s a new beginning!” he said at the reception after the white coat ceremony.  “It’s important to go through a formal transition that makes everybody excited and reminds them why they’re here.”

New student Narges Maskan, another Californian who has an undergrad degree from UC-Davis, appreciated starting medical school with a holistic approach before the hard sciences begin. “We were able to start relationships with not just each other but also faculty,” she said. The insight into the extraordinarily diverse patient population was critical as well. “One thing I heard over and over again about Miami was the clinical experience here is something you won’t get in the rest of the country,” Maskan said. “That really was the reason I came.”

Dr. Mechaber, described by Dean Ford as “one of the proudest Canes in the history of the University of Miami,” shared five lessons in his keynote address:

  1. “You must always carry the welfare of your patients as your primary professional concern.”
  2. You will be challenged to uphold your professional values. “How you manage those challenges will speak volumes about your character and integrity. Remember why you chose to enter this profession and remind yourself of it every day.”
  3. “Take care of yourself. … Don’t be afraid to ask for help for yourself or your colleagues.”
  4. “Open your eyes and be aware of the wonderful role models around you. There are many at the Miller School of Medicine.”
  5. “Be thankful every day for the honor and privilege you are being granted to take care of patients and have such a meaningful impact on their lives.”
Dr. Alex Mechaber
Dr. Alex Mechaber

President Frenk welcomed the students into the M.D. family. “As a fourth-generation physician, throughout my career in global health, and now as president of a university that is home to South Florida’s only academic health system, I have had the privilege of being surrounded by talented and dedicated M.D.s my entire life,” he said. “I am excited to witness your transformation as you build your expertise and earn the trust the white coat symbolizes.”

The future of medicine “depends on your relentless pursuit of excellence, your commitment to lifelong learning and teamwork, all in order to serve your patients, or mankind, more effectively,” Dean Ford reminded them. “You are embarking on what I believe is simultaneously the greatest journey and the most rewarding adventure of your lifetime.

“This is an unparalleled and exhilarating journey that will transform and equip you with the necessary tools to exert the greatest impact on the lives of other human beings, whether it’s by managing an adult with cancer or diabetes or operating on a premature infant with life-threatening problems.

“Few other professions, if any, can boast such an impact on the lives of others.”

Tags: Dean Henri Ford, Dr. Alex Mechaber, John G. Clarkson White Coat and Pinning Ceremony, President Julio Frenk