By: Presbyterian College Media
PC's inaugural cohort of physician assistant studies students, 32 in all, received their white coats in a ceremony on the West Plaza on Saturday, Oct. 3.
All in attendance wore masks during the ceremony. Chairs were arranged so that guests and students were all 6 feet apart. During his welcome, PC President Bob Staton spoke about how the pandemic has changed the world since the time the students began the classroom, or didactic, phase of the program a year ago.
"None of us could have imagined what would happen between the time last year, when you began the PA Studies program and now," he said. "You're going out into a world that probably needs you even more now than it did when you began the program."
The Significance of the White Coat Ceremony
PC's White Coat Ceremony continues a tradition that Columbia University began in 1993 when it presented white coats to its medical students in the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
"Students who have passed the academic rigor of the didactic program earn a waist-length white coat symbolizing their progression from the completion of the didactic phase to the next half of their training, the clinical phase," said Dr. Joe Weber, director of PC's Physician Assistant Studies program.
PC Provost Dr. Don Raber also spoke about the significance of the white coat during his address to the students.
"Something happened earlier today that made me think of each of you," Raber said.
Raber told the students that he watched the press conference updating President Trump's condition with COVID-19.
"The president's doctor and specialists, nurses, and military personnel who are devoted to taking care of the president stood at a podium, and they were all wearing white coats," Raber said.
"Having everyone in a white coat reassures people that the individuals who are taking care of the president are all offering the best care they can possibly give. That white coat stood out in the sunlight outside Walter Reed Medical Center earlier today."
Raber urged the PA students to think about the meaning of the white coats as they receive theirs.
"The white coat is a symbol of purity, a symbol of professionalism, a symbol of the achievement that you have had and that you're about to have," he said. "Think about the white coat and the work you'll do in your rotations. Think about the responsibilities that come with wearing it."
Resilience, Passion, and Grit
Dr. Tim Pysell, the admissions director of the Physician Assistant program, delivered the keynote address during the ceremony. Pysell discussed how resilience, passion and grit will make the PA students better clinicians.
"Perhaps Winston Churchill embodied resilience best when he addressed Parliament about the German bombardment of England during World War II," Pysell said.
"Churchill said, 'Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in.'"
Pysell further drew from figures as varied as the Salvation Army founder, a professor who studies grit, and a NAVY Seal to explain how passion and grit will also factor into students' growth as physician assistants.
"When you multiply talent times effort you get skill," Pysell said. "It also turns out that when you multiply skill times effort, you get achievement.
"Willingness to fail, and failure to quit are extremely important."
Before the students received their white coats, Pysell passed along final wise words.
"I want to encourage you to stay in the fight to achieve excellence," he said. "Remember your why. Stay whole in order that you may give more to your patients. Be the best you can be and strive to improve every day.
"Fail. Own it. Learn from it.
"Remember you’re a greater purpose. And if you choose to stay in medicine, remember General Booth, and achieve excellence for others."
Receiving their White Coats
After receiving their white coats, the students took the PA Professional Oath, as recited by Dr. Greg Mappin, the medical director of the PA Studies program.
Now, the students will take eight clinical rotations and then take their rotation exams. Once students graduate from the PA Studies program, they must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to become licensed and able to practice medicine.
"Eventually," Weber said, "when students graduate, pass their national certifying examination, and receive a license to practice medicine, they will earn the right to wear a long white coat symbolizing a practicing clinician."
Please visit Majors, Minors, and Programs to learn more about the undergraduate academic program at PC. The Graduate & Professional page includes more information about the graduate programs in pharmacy, physician assistant studies, and occupational therapy.