“You can head in any direction you want.” Jara Chen, MMSc ’07, PA-C, shared this quote from Dr. Seuss Oh, the places you’ll go, in his commencement address at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2024 of the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Medical Associates (PA) Program. On August 26, nearly 140 family members, friends and alumni joined the ceremony virtually. It was held at the Mary S. Harkness Auditorium, to celebrate 35 new AP students.
AP Program Director Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C, explained the symbolic significance of the white coat ceremony. “Each year, we celebrate the moment when the student moves from classroom learning to patient learning. This milestone ceremony and the white coat remind us that caring for patients is a privilege and an honour. Garino continued, “With this privilege comes the responsibility to hone your skills and strive to be an exceptional clinician who will serve your community and advance quality health care.”
Back to the ritual
Reflecting on how COVID-19 has altered the ceremony over the past three years, Garino noted that while this year, once again, everyone in the Harkness Auditorium has to sit distancing and masked, the actual coating process had returned to its pre-pandemic ritual. In 2020, she explained, students came on stage with their coats draped over their arms and put it on themselves. Last year, David Brissette, MMSc, PA-C, associate director of the PA program, helped each student put on their coat. Now again, Garino said, in “another hopeful step toward normalcy,” sophomores would help every freshman put on their coat, and freshmen, in turn, would would give sophomores a pin. with the YSM crest. Garino explained that the pin is a reminder “that when we get to where we are going, we must help those who follow.”
Garino also noted that each member of the Class of 2024 would receive a stethoscope that a graduate of the Yale PA program had donated. The stethoscope, Garino said, “so doesn’t just connect the patient to the PA; it also connects new students with alumni.
In welcoming the Class of 2024 and their families and friends, Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and CNH Long Professor of Internal Medicine, noted that next year will mark 50 years since the first class of five PA students graduated from Yale, one of the first schools in the nation to train physician assistants.
Brown told students it was important to pause during the white coat ceremony and “reflect on the commitment you are making.” Reminding students that they will be with patients at the most vulnerable times in patients’ lives, she stressed that it was essential to listen to patients and respect the dignity of each patient. Echoing Garino, Brown said it’s a privilege and an honor to care for patients.
“Today is your day.”
After Brown spoke, Garino introduced Chen, whom Garino described as “a great friend and supporter of the program” since graduating 15 years ago. Chen explained that she bought Oh, the places you’ll go recently for her son, who is about to start pre-K. Reading the book reminded Chen how much it relates to everyone’s life. “Congratulations! Today is your day. You are off to Great Places! Let’s go!” she recited it, before telling new students, “you’re here, you’ve made it” and “what an amazing place to start this journey,” here at Yale.
Recalling his own time in the PA program, Chen said that although his class of 32 students came from diverse backgrounds, like the current class, they all had in common that they were chosen to be part of the PA YSM program. . She shared how she and her classmates studied together late at night and “rejoiced at each other’s successes and comforted each other when one of them struggled.”
Regarding her first clinical experience – a rotation in infectious diseases – Chen said she was both excited and scared when it started, realizing how much she still didn’t know after a year of teaching. However, Chen explained, because the attendees were all “patient and passionate,” her clinical rotations were a wonderful experience. She reminded the students that everyone associated with the PA program has the same goal and “is here to help you”.
Reflecting on the white coat and the professors and other medical professionals who wear it, Chen told the students, “don’t be afraid or intimidated. We were all in your shoes at one point. She humorously shared that when she first wore a white coat in 2006, she was like a pack mule, carrying all the medical instruments she might need in her pockets, as well as essentials like the gum and lip balm, to the point of making walking awkward because his pockets were so bulky.
For Chen, the white coat represents “compassion, service, and commitment to patients,” as well as a “commitment to lifelong learning, growth, and change to become a better clinician, a better educator and a better person”. Chen reminded the students, especially, that the white coat doesn’t define them, they define her. She concluded her remarks by quoting the end of Oh, the places you’ll go“You are out of the Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting for you. So… move on!”