White Coat Ceremony Serves as Welcome for Class of 2024

Published August 13, 2020

story by dirk hoffman

A new class of 182 students celebrated its entry into the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences with a hybrid White Coat Ceremony Aug. 7.

“It is most important that we provide compassionate care for our patients as empathy engenders trust. While many of our resources are finite, compassion is infinite. ”
Clinical associate professor of neurology



The ceremony was conducted in person for students in the M&T Auditorium on the downtown campus. Students who were unable to attend — as well as family and friends — were able to view the ceremony via a Zoom video live-streamed on YouTube.

White Coat the Symbol of a Noble Profession

Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School, welcomed the Class of 2024.

He noted the ceremony recognizes one of many milestones on the pathway to becoming a physician.

“You are an exceptional group of individuals and because of that we have high expectations for your accomplishments and leadership in science, medicine and education,” he told the class.

“This year you begin to assimilate the extensive fund of knowledge required to one day care for human beings who will entrust their lives to you,” Cain said.

“You will learn to be a detective, an educator, a healer, a counselor, an advocate and a compassionate human being who will share with your patients both the joy of favorable outcomes and the pain and sorrow that accompany the delivery of tragic news,” he added. “This trust is a special, but awesome responsibility, for in medicine there is no tolerance for second best.”

Cain noted the white coat “is the symbol of our noble profession. A symbol of excellence and professionalism in everything we do and it is a symbol of the trust one human being places in another. You have worked hard and have earned the right to wear one today. Never forget what it symbolizes and wear it well.”

Family, Friends and Mentors Acknowledged

During the ceremony’s “Calling of the Class,” Dori R. Marshall, MD ’97, associate dean and director of medical admissions, called the name of each student, and announced their hometowns and undergraduate institutions. After all names were called, the entire class donned their white coats.

Marshall said it was unfortunate that students’ families could not be invited into the auditorium to join in the celebration, noting that it just was not possible due to COVID-19.

“But I know for the family, friends and mentors who are watching right now, they are celebrating your launch into medicine,” she said. “I personally want to thank each and every person who is now watching — the fathers, mothers, grandparents, mentors, families and friends — all those who had a hand in helping to support you on your path to this day.”

“It didn’t happen in a bubble. You being here as the Class of 2024 represents a combined effort with those who inspired, pushed and loved you as you set your sights on medical school. I thank them for being there for you in years past and in the years to come,” Marshall said.

Class Selected From 4,361 Applicants

This year’s class was selected from a pool of 4,361 applicants. A total of 605 interviews were conducted.

The class has an average undergraduate GPA of 3.66 and an average MCAT score of 510.

The class is composed of 98 women and 84 men. Class members range in age from 21 to 38.

Eighty-eight percent of the class of 2024 — 160 students — are from New York State and 80 students are from Western New York.

Forty-two students earned their undergraduate degrees from UB.

Diversity and Passion for Research Noted

Marshall said the White Coat Ceremony gives her the opportunity to tell the class members a little about themselves and cited the diversity of the class — noting that she counted 31 languages spoken in their homes besides English. She listed them all — from Albanian to Yoruba.

“You are artists and athletes — from dancing flamenco, salsa and ballet — to singing acapella, playing cello, guitar and trombone — to playing baseball, CrossFit, volleyball, basketball, fly fishing, ice hockey, rowing, sailing, soccer, tennis, rugby, golf — and let’s not forget Quidditch,” she said. “These are just a few of the many talents you collectively hold.”

While the vast majority of this year’s class majored in basic sciences as undergraduates, 45 are not basic sciences majors.

“Instead, you focused your passion through the lenses of anthropology, economics, global health, mathematics, philosophy, public health, psychology, religion and others,” Marshall noted.

Thirty members of the class have advanced degrees — either a master’s or a doctorate.

“Not only have you all excelled academically, but you have done thousands of hours of research in basic science labs, in clinical settings and in social science fields,” Marshall said. “Your research has been at your home universities, here at UB, at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, at Roswell Park Comprehensive Care Center and abroad.”

“Some among you are volunteer firefighters and many of you have medical training as emergency medical technicians, scribes or medical assistants,” she said. “You have volunteered thousands of hours in hundreds of communities in need, both in North America and around the world.”

Students Reminded ‘Compassion is Infinite’

Nicholas J. Silvestri, MD ’04, clinical associate professor of neurology and assistant dean for student and academic affairs, gave the keynote address and focused on the responsibility that wearing a white coat entails.

“What extraordinary times we live in. What an amazing time to become a doctor,” he said. “To say that the world has dramatically changed over the past eight months is a gross understatement.”

Silvestri said the field of medicine has felt these changes perhaps more than any other field.

“The pandemic, racial injustice and increasingly partisan politics have permanently altered our world and impacted our profession,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for each and every one of you for deciding to enter the field at this point in time.”

“The trust that patients and their families will place in you is sacred and inviolable. We as a profession have lost that trust with many in our community and many in our nation and it is up to us to earn that trust back,” Silvestri said.

Silvestri reminded the medical students that every patient and every person must be treated with the respect, dignity and compassion that they deserve, regardless of their background.

“Not only this, but society as a whole has placed its trust in our profession to lead us out of these difficult times,” he said. “It is our field that will beat the pandemic and it is our field that will set the example to finally obtain social justice in this country. You will all be a part of that movement.”

Silvestri told the students that in order to truly excel as a physician there are many necessary attributes, but two key ones rise to the top — sound medical knowledge and empathy.

“It is most important that we provide compassionate care for our patients as empathy engenders trust,” he said. “While many of our resources are finite, compassion is infinite.”

Neurologist Cited for Humanism in Practice

During the ceremony, Robert N. Sawyer Jr., MD, clinical associate professor of neurology, was presented with the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.

Charles M. Severin, MD ’97, PhD, associate dean for student and academic affairs, presented the award, noting that each year he asks the graduating class to think back to all of the clinicians they came in contact with during their four years of medical school and to nominate someone for the award.

Students were effusive in their praise of Sawyer, who is co-director of the Stroke Care Center at the Gates Vascular Institute and chief of stroke care at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital.

Among the nominators’ comments about Sawyer:

  • “he is a fantastic role model for students and residents with respect to humanism in medicine.”
  • “he is always punctual, stands behind his residents and always watches out for his patients.”
  • “he appears to love teaching and is not afraid to admit when he doesn’t know something.”
  • “he is unfailingly attentive and patient when caring for people, never interrupting a story or discounting any aspect of someone’s subjective experience of their illness.”
  • “he always aligns himself with his patients’ concerns and addresses them all — medical, social and emotional.”

Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, the Tow Award recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates outstanding compassion in the delivery of care; respect for patients, their families and health care colleagues; and demonstrated clinical excellence.