Building a Legacy: PA Students Earn White Coats

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On a brightly-lit stage on a beautifully sunny day in June, 35 white coats hung in wait for the members of the Class of 2020 Physician Assistant Studies program. The symbolic White Coat Ceremony at Johnson & Wales University, held at the mid-way point of the year-round, 24-month program, marks the beginning of students’ clinical training.

While family, friends, and classmates filed into Schneider auditorium, a slideshow of photos and videos played up on stage depicting students studying, singing, dancing, and even working alongside their beloved pets. Faculty members took the stage as the ceremony began, offering words of wisdom, wit and encouragement. “Remember, it is you who creates and defines the practitioner who wears that white coat,” Medical Director Diane Siedlecki told the students. “Wear it well. Wear it as the symbol of all that is good and wonderful in this profession.”

"Wear it as the symbol of all that is good and wonderful in this profession."

The faculty speakers encouraged the cohort to keep their sense of humor strong and to look for the fun in things — which is something, they all agreed, that this class definitely knows how to do. “We were sharing study guides, bonding over dissections, studying together into the late hours of the night, or singing to relieve the ‘stressy-depressy’ feeling that we all get before exams,” student speaker Dylan Godyn ’20 said of his fellow classmates.

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Godyn, a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with two bachelor’s degrees in kinesiology & exercise science and biology, offered his thanks on behalf of the class to parents, family members, and faculty. “We came to you with a dream of practicing medicine. And it’s through your dedication that we are one step closer to making it a reality,” he said. “You brought out the best in us, and allowed us to flourish as students.”

"You brought out the best in us, and allowed us to flourish as students."

The White Coat Ceremony has its origins in the early ’90s, when pediatric neurologist Dr. Arnold P. Gold decided that having students take the Hippocratic Oath at the end of their training was four years too late. As such, the Gold Foundation instituted the ceremony at the very start of a student’s clinical education as a way to emphasize humanism in medicine.

George Bottomley, director of the Center for Physician Assistant Studies, spoke of interviewing the class members last year for their spots in the highly-competitive program. “I always ask who their heroes are,” he recalled. “They all said you – their families.” He reminded the students that this ceremony is “a moment to reflect on where we have been and where we are going,” and he believes that this class is going places.

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The Class of 2020 has taken roughly 1300 hours of lecture and lab thus far, not including the two-week prep period for their clinicals. “You learned everything from how to intubate an unconscious patient and drawing blood to suturing and closing the abdominal cavity after taking out a gall bladder,” Bottomley said. Now, finished with didactic training, the class moves on to clinicals.

Faculty advisors Craig Baillie, PA-C, M.S., Ashley Hughes, PA-C, M.S.P.A.S., Aleko Kimbouris, PA-C, M.S.H.S., M.P.H., and Kelli Kruzel, PA-C, M.S.P.A.S. took turns helping students put on their white coats for the very first time in a ceremony punctuated with cheers and smiles. Once finished, Mallory Sullivan, PA-C, M.S.P.A.S led the group in the administration of the Physician Assistant Oath.

The PA program has now graduated over 100 students since its inception in 2014. Graduates are practicing throughout the state of Rhode Island and across the country. Provost Billye Auclair reminded the students that they should be proud of the tradition they are building. “You're here because you are bright, compassionate, hardworking, and dedicated,” she said. “Together you are all building the legacy that is defining Johnson & Wales’ role in healthcare.”

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The Class of 2020 has taken roughly 1300 hours of lecture and lab thus far, not including the two-week prep period for their clinicals. “You learned everything from how to intubate an unconscious patient and drawing blood to suturing and closing the abdominal cavity after taking out a gall bladder,” Bottomley said. Now, finished with didactic training, the class moves on to clinicals.

Faculty advisors Craig Baillie, PA-C, M.S., Ashley Hughes, PA-C, M.S.P.A.S., Aleko Kimbouris, PA-C, M.S.H.S., M.P.H., and Kelli Kruzel, PA-C, M.S.P.A.S. took turns helping students put on their white coats for the very first time in a ceremony punctuated with cheers and smiles. Once finished, Mallory Sullivan, PA-C, M.S.P.A.S led the group in the administration of the Physician Assistant Oath.

The PA program has now graduated over 100 students since its inception in 2014. Graduates are practicing throughout the state of Rhode Island and across the country. Provost Billye Auclair reminded the students that they should be proud of the tradition they are building. “You're here because you are bright, compassionate, hardworking, and dedicated,” she said. “Together you are all building the legacy that is defining Johnson & Wales’ role in healthcare.”