New Pritzker M1s Receive White Coats in Historic Ceremony

In a milestone moment for the Pritzker School of Medicine, 90 new first-year students received their first white coats on Sunday at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the University of Chicago campus.

The students, comprising the entering Class of 2023, became the first Pritzker students to undertake their medical training under the new Phoenix Curriculum, which officially launched on Monday with a week of immersion activities, including intensive simulated interactions with standardized patients in that week.

The White Coat Ceremony, now a nationwide tradition, originated at the Pritzker School of Medicine in 1989 as a way to honor the beginning of matriculating students’ journey becoming doctors. Pritzker students’ society Career Advisors invest them with their first white coat in a ceremony attended by their families and friends as well as faculty and staff.

Tanya Zakrison, MD, MPH delivered the ceremony’s keynote address, emphasizing the power and responsibility that come with the white coat and challenging the students on multiple fronts.

“The white coat is a symbol of power, and power is always fraught with risk,” Zakrison said. “Your journey will be to interrogate this power, to peel back the layers of human experience, and understand what this symbol and others mean to each other, to your families, your patients, and communities within the context of our local and global intertwined histories.”

A Professor of Surgery and the Director of Critical Trauma Research, Zakrison went on to make three asks of the new crop of Pritzker students: to seek truth behind the illnesses they will treat, to recognize their power and wield it as leaders for justice, and to speak truth to power.

Articulating her second ask, Zakrison highlighted the work of several current and former Pritzker students whose work in advocacy and activism have contributed to greater equity and justice for patients and communities, offering inspiration for the new students to follow.

“You are all leaders; find and articulate your passions,” Zakrison said. “Do it together. At Pritzker, we do not encourage you to think outside of the box. There simply is no box.”

Finally, Zakrison also urged students to tap into the experienced faculty around them to explore the “why” questions and rely on each other on the challenging path through medical school and beyond.

“Lean on your circle of support in your challenging moments and celebrate your victories together,” Zakrison said. “Support one another, go further together, use your power wisely, and continue to make us all proud.”

In the new class of students, 80 percent come to Pritzker from out of state, including two percent international. The 40 percent of the class from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine puts Pritzker among the most diverse medical schools in the U.S. Additionally, 80 percent of the class took at least one gap year before beginning medical school. [Learn more about the entering Class of 2023 here] 

Then new class also represented a historic cohort thanks to recent philanthropic efforts and a multiyear commitment from the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division. The class became the first to which Pritzker will provide full-tuition scholarships to up to half of the incoming class, part of a push to inspire a more diverse generation of physicians and to reduce student debt among graduates.

Since the new trainees are the first to undertake the new Phoenix Curriculum, most of the class will also become the first to graduate under the redesigned curriculum, which emphasizes self-directed learning, research scholarship, and community engagement and accelerates students’ entry into the clinical phase of training. Those completing medical school on a traditional four-year timeline will graduate in 2027, the same year Pritzker celebrates its centennial.

The Pritzker School of Medicine is grateful for the support of the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence for the stethoscopes the students received, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for the pins that were provided on the white coat to symbolize humanism in medicine, and the Medical Biological Sciences Alumni Association for their support of the white coat ceremony.