Physician Associate Class of 2024 Receives White Coats and Advice

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“You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Jara Chen, MMSc ’07, PA-C, shared this quote from Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go, in her keynote address at the White Coat Ceremony for the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Physician Associate (PA) Program Class of 2024. On August 26, close to 140 family members, friends, and alumni joined the ceremony virtually. It was held in Mary S. Harkness Auditorium, to celebrate the 35 new PA students.

PA Program Director Alexandria Garino, PhD, PA-C, explained the symbolic importance of the White Coat Ceremony. “Each year we celebrate the point when the student moves from learning in the classroom to learning from the patient. This milestone ceremony and the white coat are reminders that caring for patients is a privilege and an honor.” Garino continued, “With that privilege comes the responsibility to hone your skills and strive to be an outstanding clinician who will serve your community and advance quality health care.”

Returning to ritual

Reflecting on how COVID-19 has altered the ceremony the past three years, Garino noted that while this year, once again, everyone in Harkness Auditorium had to sit distanced and masked, the actual coating process had returned to its pre-pandemic ritual. In 2020, she explained, students came to the stage with their coats draped over their arms and donned it themselves. Last year, PA Program Associate Director David Brissette, MMSc, PA-C, helped each student with their coat. Now once again, Garino said, in “another hopeful step towards normalcy,” second-year students would help each first-year student don their coat, and the first-year students, in turn, would give the second-year students a pin with the YSM crest. Garino explained the pin is a reminder “that when we get to where we are going we need to help those who follow.”

Garino also noted that each member of the Class of 2024 would receive a stethoscope that a Yale PA Program graduate had donated. The stethoscope, Garino said, therefore “not only connects patient to PA; it also connects new student to alumni.”

In welcoming the Class of 2024 and their families and friends, Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean and C.N.H. 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 country to educate PAs.

Brown told the students it was important to pause during the White Coat Ceremony and “reflect on the commitment you are making.” Reminding the students that they will be with patients at the most vulnerable moments of the patients’ lives, she emphasized that it was critical to listen to patients and respect the dignity of each patient. Echoing Garino, Brown said it is a privilege and 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 from it 15 years ago. Chen explained she had purchased Oh, the Places You’ll Go recently for her son, who is about to begin pre-K. Reading the book reminded Chen how it pertains to everyone’s lives. “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!” she recited from it, before telling the new students, “you are here, you made it,” and “what an amazing place to begin this journey,” here at Yale.

Recalling her own time in the PA Program, Chen said that while her class of 32 students came from diverse backgrounds, like the current class, they all had in common that they been chosen to be part of the YSM PA Program. She shared how she and classmates would study together late into the evening and “rejoiced in each other’s successes and consoled each other when one of them struggled.”

Turning to her first clinical experience—an infectious diseases rotation—Chen said that she was both excited and scared when it began, realizing how much she still did not know after a year of didactics. However, Chen explained, because the attendings all were “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 faculty and other medical professionals wearing them, Chen told the students “do not be afraid or intimidated. We were all in your shoes at one time.” She humorously shared that when she first wore a white coat in 2006, she was like a pack-mule, carrying every possible medical instrument she might need in her pockets, as well as essentials like gum and lip balm, to the point of making walking awkward because her pockets were so bulky.

For Chen, the white coat represents “compassion, service, and commitment to patients,” as well as “a commitment to life-long learning, growing, and changing to be a better clinician, better educator, and better person.” Chen reminded the students, importantly, that the white coat does not define them, that they define it. She closed her remarks by quoting from the end of Oh, the Places You’ll Go, “You’re off the Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!”

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