July 27, 2018

Family, pride and compassion celebrated at School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony for incoming M.D. Class of 2022


Freshman medical student Ethan Firestone knew exactly who he wanted to have by his side when he put on his white coat for the first time.

At the Wayne State University School of Medicine's annual White Coat Ceremony, the younger Firestone was thrilled to receive that important symbol of his chosen path - a short coat emblazoned with a WSU School of Medicine patch, indicating that he and his 289 colleagues are now medical students. The ceremony was held July 27 in the Detroit Opera House following two weeks of orientation for the men and women who make up the Class of 2022.

His grandfather, Nathan Firestone, M.D., Class of 1959, walked onto the Detroit Opera House stage with him and also placed the white coat on his grandson's shoulders.

"Unbelievably proud and honored that he chose me to be here today," said Dr. Firestone, a retired Farmington, Mich., pediatrician and alumnus of the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

"The white coat is a personally delivered gift of faith, confidence and compassion," said Professor of Oncology Elisabeth Heath, M.D., the Gold Humanism Honor Society's faculty advisor.

The White Coat Ceremony is an international tradition started by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in 1993 to remind incoming medical students to practice humanistic patient-centered medical care. Events like WSU's ceremony are held at the beginning of the academic year at 97 percent of medical schools accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges in the United States, Canada and 13 other countries.

School of Medicine Dean and Distinguished Professor Jack D. Sobel, M.D., welcomed the students while also recognizing family, friends and other supporters who assisted them along the journey to medical school, a journey that included applying to a medical school that received a record number of applications for the Class of 2022.

"The white coat you receive today distinguishes you from the more than 9,000 applicants who wanted to be where you are today," he said. "Your job is to ask questions. Never be afraid to ask questions and explore. Lifelong learning is essential in medicine. You need to seize and embrace this opportunity. We are here to learn, but we are also here to serve."

Being one of the chosen few was not lost on friends Julie Fynke and Brian Fennell. The two met at the University of Michigan as undergraduates, and have spent the last four years focused almost solely on getting to the next four years, with no guarantee of acceptance into a medical school.

"There has been a lot of stress, hard work and energy to get here," Fynke said. "It's overwhelming and exciting at the same time."

"It's all about today. This is the first step," Fennell added.

And while the two were nervous over the years - would it all be worth it? - Fennell's mother, a physician, lived those emotions with them.

"It was nerve-wracking for them, but it was also nerve-wracking for me as a parent. They work so hard, and you want them to be successful," said Jennifer Appleyard, M.D., an allergist who graduated from the WSU School of Medicine in 1989.

"Carrying on that tradition means a lot to me. I loved Wayne. It was a great experience," she said. "I love medicine, and I knew he would be great at it, but it was something that he had to come to on his own."

She helped a bit, bringing him to the school's annual "Future Docs" program for children, when he was 10 years old.

"We just did that so he could see what it was like," she said.

During the ceremony, Associate Dean for Admissions Kevin Sprague, M.D. '80, read each student's name, then Vice Dean for Medical Education Richard Baker, M.D.; Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Margit Chadwell, M.D.; Associate Professor of Internal Medicine Eric Ayers, M.D.; and Vice Dean of Diversity and Community Affairs Herbert Smitherman, M.D., or a physician parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle, sibling or mentor cloaked them in the hip-length white coat. They also received a handshake and lapel pins from Dean Sobel. And for the second consecutive year, the WSU Medical Alumni Association president, Trifun Dimitrijevski, M.D. '02, Res. '05, gave them a card with the name of an individual or organization that generously sponsored their white coat.
Backstage, they received the Declaration of Commitment, which they collectively recited at the end of the event.

David Amponsah, M.D., director of Emergency Medicine Ultrasound Education and Fellowship at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, was the ceremony's keynote speaker. An assistant clinical professor of Emergency Medicine for the school of medicine, he received the 2018 Gold Humanism Award from the WSU chapter of the Arnold P. Gold Foundation's Gold Humanism Honor Society. He advised the students to always practice "the golden rule."

"Treat others as you would want to be treated," he said. "(Practice) empathy, strong communication and shared decision-making with your patients."

Classes begin July 30.

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