The first two years of medical school are notoriously tough with a dizzying volume of new information to be learned in the foundational sciences. Not only has the Class of 2024 survived this academic intensity—they’ve done it during a pandemic with much of their education moved online.
Now at the halfway point, their medical training will take a dramatic shift. On April 18, 2022, members of the Indiana University School of Medicine Class of 2024 ceremonially received their white coats, signifying the transition to hands-on learning in the clinical setting where students will interact directly with patients.
This is the first year the White Coat Ceremony took place at the end of second year rather than the first semester of medical school.
“By establishing this meaningful ritual at this important stage of your medical education, we hope it will instill an awareness and commitment of the responsibilities you are assuming from this day forward,” said Paul Wallach, MD, executive associate dean for educational affairs and institutional improvement, in his address to the Class of 2024. “It is intended to impress upon you the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and the obligations inherent in the practice of medicine—to excel scientifically, to care compassionately and to serve professionally.”
IU School of Medicine-Fort Wayne student Samuel Garrison said the White Coat Ceremony felt more significant than the smaller ceremony his class had at the beginning of medical school—held outdoors on the Fort Wayne campus with students in masks and standing 5 feet apart.
“The impact is a lot different being here today and seeing everyone from all the campuses,” he said. “It really makes the last two years—especially the last two months of studying for the STEP exam—feel like it was all worth it. I’m really excited and looking forward to the next phase in my education.”
The ceremony included recitation of the Physician’s Oath as students vowed to dedicate their lives to the service of humanity, making the health and well-being of patients their first consideration.
It’s an occasion marked by both solemnity and joy. Wallach advised the medical students to wear their white coats with pride—and humility.
“Being a physician doesn’t make you better than others, it means that you have responsibilities to others,” he said.
Putting on the white coat means working with integrity as part of a team, added IU School of Medicine Dean Jay L. Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA.
“It means being dependable and ethical in all you do—earning the trust others place in you by maintaining the highest standards of honesty and civility,” he said.
It also means treating all patients with dignity and respect, regardless of their backgrounds or identities.
“May you always be a source of hope to every person you encounter,” Hess said.
Fourth-year medical student Mikayla Burrell, who will graduate this year and enter residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, reminded her junior colleagues to take care of themselves and check in with one another. As president of the Wellness Coalition at IU School of Medicine, Burrell has often spoken about her struggles with mental health during her early medical school years. Having a support system is important, said Burrell, who is also a member of the Gold Humanism National Honor Society.
She advised the students to be honest about their inevitable mistakes and to ask for help when needed. There is something to learn from every attending physician, colleague and patient, she said. It’s important to be humble and listen.
“You will learn so much more from patients than you ever will from books or lectures,” she said.
Samantha Rodriguez, a member of the Class of 2024 from the South Bend campus, said she appreciated Burrell’s insights.
“It was really nice to hear her perspective on the other side of this experience and to be reminded that taking care of ourselves is one of the most important parts of the next two years and beyond,” Rodriguez said.
Like many in the Class of 2024, Indianapolis student Joey Ballard said he is looking forward to finally being able to interact with patients.
“So much of our first years were online—I’ve done so much school at my house—so I’m really looking forward to being part of a team and getting to work with patients,” he said.
Indianapolis student Kadija Kanu beamed as she celebrated with family. She’s proud of her accomplishment and said her white coat signifies “more to come.”
“I’m looking forward to exploring the different medical specialties,” she said. “I have my eye on pediatrics right now, but I want to learn more about what’s out there and explore things I possibly haven’t thought of before.”
Classmate Rabiah Amjad is also looking forward to new experiences in the world of medicine. But she’ll gladly pause for a celebration.
“Having my family here was really significant because they’ve seen me through all of my goals and helped me get this far,” she said. “Being able to celebrate with them was very meaningful today.