The 2019 White Coat Ceremony

On a warm Sunday in early August, the incoming students of 2019 walked through Rockefeller Chapel, past their family and friends who were in attendance, to receive their first white coats. These 90 students come from 48 colleges and universities, 27 states, and some were born in countries other than the United States, yet they are now united in a common purpose in their journey to become physicians.

Kenneth Polonsky, MD, Richard T. Crane Distinguished Service Professor, Dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and Pritzker School of Medicine, welcomed the incoming students to campus and spoke of the unique opportunities awaiting them here. From the new procedures being developed at UChicago Medicine to any future changes that may come to the U.S. healthcare system, Pritzker students will be learning in a vibrant time of scientific and societal changes. This is a time to “find out what you are interested in, what you are good at, and how you can make a difference,” he said.

Halina Brukner, MD, Dean for Medical Education, welcomed everyone and harkened back to the first ever white coat ceremony, which was started by Pritzker decades ago. She also thanked the sponsors of the event, among them the Medical and Biological Alumni Association and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.

The two White Coat Ceremony Committee Co-Chairs, Shay Huang and Jorge Luis de Avila, MS2s, introduced keynote speaker Nora Jaskowiak, Professor of Surgery, Surgical Director of the Breast Center, and Clerkship Director for Surgery. “In the coming years,” she said, “you will enter into the lives of your patients in ways that few others can…. Every patient has a story, and I hope that you will embrace the story of each patient that you have the honor to care for over the next four years.”

Dr. Jaskowiak then talked about the lives of the four physicians whose names grace the names of Pritzker’s Advising Societies:

  • Lowell T. Coggeshall (1901-1987) who served as Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Medical School of the University of Chicago for 16 years. Dr. Coggeshall's greatest contribution to American medical education was his role in reshaping the AAMC into an effective voice for academic medicine.
  • Joseph Bolivar DeLee (1869-1942) who is often called the father of modern obstetrical care. In 1914, Dr. DeLee established what later became Chicago Lying-In Hospital.
  • Charles B. Huggins (1901-1997) who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1966 for his pioneering discoveries regarding the relationship between hormones and prostate cancer.
  • Janet Rowley, MD'48 (1925-2013) who was a pioneer in connecting the development of cancer with genetic abnormalities. Rowley’s findings opened the door to development of drugs directed at the cancer-specific genetic abnormalities.

After imparting on those gathered at the ceremony the lessons they could learn from each of these four figures, she reminded students: “Be kind to your patients, be kind to your colleagues, and please be kind to yourselves. Think, discover, work hard, persist, care, and love what you do."

With that, the incoming class of 2019 rose to recite the Hippocratic Oath, led by Keme Carter, MD, Associate Dean for Admissions, and James Woodruff, MD, Dean of Students, then exited Rockefeller with wide smiles, white coats fluttering behind them.