BUFFALO, N.Y. – The leader of a forward surgical team in
Afghanistan. A developer of tactile books for visually disabled
children. A casting editor for Top Chef. An internationally
acclaimed concert violinist. A software developer for a defense
These individuals and their classmates, a total of 144, whose
experiences are just as diverse, participated in the white coat
ceremony in the Center for the Art’s Mainstage Theater on
August 15, as members of the class of 2018 of the University at
Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The class was selected from a pool of 4,201 applicants, up from
the previous year’s pool of 4090, according to Charles
Severin, MD, PhD, associate dean for medical education and
admissions. It includes 126 residents of New York State and 18 from
out of state. Thirty are UB graduates.
Most students majored in a scientific field but others majored
in art history, accounting, performance studies, African and
African American studies, anthropology and environmental studies,
Some students have earned master’s degrees in fields
ranging from public health to business administration, from music
to nutrition. The students have won an impressive array of awards,
including Howard Hughes Medical Institute scholarships, the Merck
Award for Scholastic Excellence, a Gates Millennium Scholarship
from the United Negro College Fund, a National Institutes of Health
Diversity Grant and memberships in Phi Beta Kappa.
Many have assisted in medical clinics in Haiti, Peru, Belize,
Darfur, Uganda, Kenya, Cambodia, Ecuador and many other
During the ceremony’s “Calling of the Class”,
students were called to the stage and presented with their coats,
while their hometowns and undergraduate institutions were
announced. Students received their coats from medical school
administrators including Severin and Michael E. Cain, MD, vice
president for health sciences and dean of the UB medical school,
who gave the students his traditional counsel about the white coat:
“You have earned the right to wear it. Now you must earn the
right to keep it.”
The ceremony is the symbolic rite of passage shared by medical
students across the U.S. to establish a psychological and unwritten
ethical contract for professionalism and empathy in the practice of
medicine. But it has a surprising history, according to the keynote
address by Helen Cappuccino, MD, UB assistant professor of surgery
and assistant professor of oncology, Breast Surgery Division,
Department of Surgical Oncology, at Roswell Park Cancer Institute
and an alum of the UB medical school.
She noted that until the latter part of the 19 century,
physicians traditionally wore black “to reflect the somber
nature of their work.”
In those days, she explained, calling a physician to a loved
one’s bedside “was a prelude to death.”
But with scientific discoveries that proved the germ theory of
disease and with hygienic advances, such as access to clean water,
the practice of medicine came to be seen as a healing profession.
By 1915, she said, surgeons and other physicians had adopted the
white coat, with white being seen as the color of cleanliness and
Even today, though, the white coat isn’t always seen in a
“Today, there is talk of lab coats as being vectors for
infection,” Cappuccino said, as physicians move from patient
to patient. She also discussed ‘white coat syndrome,’
the phenomenon where some patients experience elevated blood
pressure upon seeing the white coat.
Nevertheless, it is still a positive symbol, she said, citing
studies that have found that 70 percent of patients, especially the
elderly, prefer doctors that wear white coats.
Cappuccino added that the ceremony is a day when students are
likely to experience deep feelings of gratitude for their parents,
families and teachers.
“Maybe someone wrote a letter for you saying you would
make a great physician even though you got a C minus in
chemistry,” she said. “Hold onto those feelings of
gratitude and think about paying it forward.”
During the ceremony, Kirk Scirto, MD, clinical assistant
professor of family medicine at UB, volunteer medical co-director
of Vive La Casa Refugee Shelter, and a UB medical school alum, was
presented with the Leonard Tow 2014 Humanism in Medicine award.
The award, sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, is
presented annually to a UB faculty member who best demonstrates the
foundation’s ideals of outstanding compassion in the delivery
of care, respect for the patient, their families, and health-care
colleagues, as well as demonstrated clinical excellence. Selection
is determined by student nominations.
The class of 2018 white coat ceremony was sponsored by the John
A. Wendel Endowment Fund, established by Virginia Wendel; the
Medical Alumni Association; the Medical School Parents’
Council and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.