BY MARK MUCKENFUSS | The Press-Enterprise
When UC Riverside medical student Anish Damijah was helped into his first white coat Friday night, it was an emotional moment.
“I was just trying to hold back tears,” said Dhamija, 23, of Freemont, as he mingled with 49 fellow students following the new School of Medicine’s white coat ceremony for its inaugural class of students.
“It’s not easy to get into medical school,” Dhamija said. “Each of us has gone on a journey and this is the culmination of that journey.”
The ceremony followed a week of orientation for the new medical students. They will start classes on Monday, Aug. 12.
“It’s been a great week,” said the school’s dean Dr. G. Richard Olds, prior to the ceremony. He said he’d been through white coat ceremonies before, but this one was different.
“This is my medical school,” he said. “We feel a little like we did when we had our first child.”
During his opening remarks to a crowd of family members, school faculty and local leaders numbering about 500, Olds thanked a broad spectrum of people and organizations for their help in making the medical school a reality.
“When things didn’t go well,” Olds said, “our community doubled down at every roadblock.”
He singled out State Senator Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside for helping push through full funding for the school by securing $15 million in ongoing annual state funds as part of the budget Gov. Jerry Brown signed in June.
Both men, Olds said, “were relentless. We simply would not have reached this point without them.”
He told the students to cherish their white coats and what they symbolized.
“I hope each day you put it on, it serves as a gentle reminder of the reason you chose this profession,” he said.
While a physician wearing a white coat is nothing new, the white coat ceremony is only 20 years old.
The Gold Foundation promotes the ceremony and provides $5,000 grants for schools holding them for the first time. According to its website, the first white coat ceremony was in 1993 at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The idea quickly caught on, helped by the support of the Gold Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The vast majority of medical schools now mark the beginning of a new class with the ceremony.
After a keynote address by Dr. Phyllis Guze, the medical school’s executive dean, the medical students came to the stage one by one where they were helped into their white coats by the school’s administrators and congratulated.
Dr. Paul Lyons, the medical school’s senior associate dean of education, led the students, as well as the physicians in the audience, in reciting the UCR Medical Student Oath,
“It is a visible celebration for all of us,” Lyons said of the oath, prior to the event. For those who are already physicians, “It’s a reminder, kind of like a renewal of your wedding vows. It gives you a moment to reflect.”
At a reception following the ceremony, newly confirmed Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said it was an important moment not only for the students and their families, but for the university as well, as it continues to define itself.
“You have to be moved by this event,” he said.
Happy family members were clearly in agreement.
Isabel Racataian, 50, of Grand Terrace, said her daughter, Ana-Naomi Wagemann, traveled a long road to get to UCR’s medical school.
“She always wanted to be a doctor, from the time she was little,” Racataian said. “It feels wonderful.”
Gary Van Orman, 66, of Thousand Oaks, was standing in front of a wall hanging of the medical school’s seal, taking a photo with his son, Jacob, who had just received his white coat.
“When he was like 10 or 12, he was interested in medicine,” Van Orman said. “We bought him ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ Here’s this kid going through this big book. So, his dream’s come true.”
Jacob graduated from UCR in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. He said he was accepted at two other medical schools, but felt he had to come to UCR.
“You couldn’t ask for a better medical school to go to,” he said. “I really realized it would be a major loss to myself and my education not to come here.”
He, like many of the other students, said he chose the school due to its mission to serve the Inland Empire’s underserved population.
Dean Olds said he’s been pleased to see the idea of that mission resonate.
“Some of these kids got into other UC (medical schools) and they chose to come here,” Olds said. “These kids drank the Kool-Aid.”