First In-Person White Coat Ceremony since 2019 Focuses on Shared Humanity and Social Justice
After two years of virtual ceremonies, the 2022 White Coat Ceremony was a stirring in-person celebration. The event marked an important rite of passage into the medical profession for this year’s incoming class of UCSF medical students.
The White Coat is a traditional symbol of the medical clinician and scientist, and has come to represent the knowledge, skill, and integrity of our profession,” said Marc Schenker, MD, Vice President of the UCSF Medical Alumni Association.
The MD Class of 2026 matriculating on the UCSF campus includes 167 students from a broad range of backgrounds. Fifty-nine percent of the incoming class identify as women and 54 percent are considered “underrepresented in medicine”. In addition, 16 students enrolled in the UCSF-UC Berkeley Joint Medical Program (JMP) and will spend their first two and a half years at UC Berkeley. The incoming JMP class consists of 38 percent considered “underrepresented in medicine” and 50 percent of students who identify as women.
“At the UCSF school of medicine and UCSF at large, we have a long history of social activism,” said UCSF School of Medicine Dean Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD. “We count on you to champion our goal of making UCSF a place where people from all backgrounds feel they belong and can be successful.”
Michael Chichioco, who was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by his journey as a patient with Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), has become a passionate advocate for TS awareness over the last eight years. “I hope to create positive change in the way people with TS are treated and advocate for better representation of physicians with disabilities of any shape or form,” Chichioco said.
“I have often been made to feel that I could not succeed because I have TS, but the White Coat ceremony was an amazing reminder that I belong, that people of all abilities can be successful, and that TS is not a weakness, it is my strength!”
Esther Melton’s family experiences with chronic illness spurred her interest in medicine at a young age. She knew her future in medicine would be centered on health equity and social justice. Melton said, “I am a proud participant in the PRIME-US program. I want to pursue medicine to address the acute care needs of underserved patients, while also working at a systemic level in public health and/or public policy to improve outcomes for underserved people in the future.”
Melton reflected on the White Coat ceremony, saying, “The white coat is an interesting symbol for me, since historically it symbolized the power being held by a particular population – generally white men. As a Black woman, putting on the white coat and wearing it with pride feels like I am establishing my place as valid and necessary in this field.”
Viangkaeo Lee and her family immigrated to the U.S. in 2004 as part of a wave of Hmong refugees from Thailand. Her family settled in California’s San Joaquin Valley. At the age of 13, Lee began serving as a translator between her ailing father and his American physicians. Her experience as her father’s caretaker and a Hmong interpreter led Lee to pursue a career in medicine. She is part of the SJV PRIME program, a tailored track for UCSF medical students who are committed to ensuring high-quality, diverse, and well distributed medical care to improve health for populations, communities, and individuals in the San Joaquin Valley.
Lee said, “I chose UCSF for its commitment to social justice and to helping underserved communities like the one I come from. Being part of SJV PRIME will allow me to continue to give back to and advance the health of the community that raised me.”
Dafna Erana Hernandez looks forward to starting her medical education. She said, “I am most excited to explore my various interests in medicine, such as community medicine and precision medicine, and find ways to use what I learn in class to work with and serve the local community.”
Erana Hernandez was happy to share the in-person celebration with her family. She said, “The White Coat Ceremony was exciting and encouraging! It was so special to get to share the moment with my mom and my sisters, three women in my life who have deeply shaped who I am and what I am passionate about.”
Eushavia Bogan spent five years working as a community organizer and urban farmer. Working in the field, she saw community members and students impacted by preventable diseases and discrimination. Bogan intends to focus on family medicine and increasing access to preventative care. “I was inspired by the number of people from underrepresented in medicine backgrounds at UCSF. I felt proud to stand alongside so many thoughtful current and future physicians who are invested in health advocacy and making impactful change,” she said.
Denisse Morales-Rodriguez has always been attracted to science. While studying neuroscience in college, she learned about the social determinants of health and the health inequities present in our society. As a Latinx woman, she recognized these health disparities in her own family and resolved to act by focusing her career on finding solutions. She decided to combine her two passions: science and social justice as a physician-scientist.
Morales-Rodriguez is part of the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) MD-PhD program. “I decided to pursue an MD-PhD program because I wanted to combine my passion for helping others with scientific discovery, and by obtaining a PhD as well as an MD, I could both treat patients and achieve a greater understanding of our bodies and disease,” she said.
Bilal Wurie saw the numerous barriers the health care system presented his family, especially a sibling with special needs. He is inspired to fill those gaps as a future physician-advocate. For Wurie, the White Coat ceremony was a reminder that, “People may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel. The foundation—and future—of healthcare is rooted in celebrating our humanity and making space for those who need it most.”
Erick K. Hung, MD, Associate Dean for Students, delivered the keynote address and encouraged students to take to heart the four “BCs” of social justice warriors developed by past UCSF Presidential Chair Camara Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, whose work focuses on naming, measuring, and addressing the impacts for racism on the health and well-being of the country. Dr. Hung encouraged students to embrace these four BCs—Be Curious, Be Courageous, Be Collective, Build Community—and pass them forward throughout their careers.
Kewchang Lee, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, led students and physicians in the recitation of the UCSF Physician Declaration, a pledge to serve humanity, care for the sick, and alleviate pain and suffering.
Catherine Lucey, MD, MACP, Executive Vice Dean and Vice Dean for Education, concluded the event by welcoming students to the exciting next steps in their career as medical students. Dr. Lucey said, “Welcome to the journey. Welcome to medicine. And above all, welcome to UCSF. We can’t wait to see all that you will accomplish.”
Student writer, Amanda Leon, contributed reporting for this news story.