The Wayne State University School of Medicine’s 309 matriculants who make up the Class of 2026 were properly celebrated during the School of Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony, held July 29 at the Detroit Opera House. During the ceremony, the new students received their short white coats, which signifies that they are physicians-in-training.
The event was the first in-person White Coat Ceremony held since 2019. The ceremony is an international tradition started by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and Gold Humanism Honor Society in 1993 to remind incoming medical students to practice humanistic patient-centered medical care. At least 97% percent of medical schools accredited by the Association of American Medical Colleges now hold White Coat ceremonies for first-year medical students. Students wear the coats during their four years of training, leading to the traditional longer lab coats worn by physicians after graduation.
“We are so proud of our students, the fantastic Class of 2026,” said event emcee Margit Chadwell, M.D., associate dean of Student Affairs and Career Development.
Dr. Chadwell provided detail on the coat’s components and their symbolism, beginning with the small left-hand pocket placed strategically over the heart.
“When you reach for something in it, I hope you will remember this: Our human connection is at the heart of every doctor-patient relationship. Medical science is certainly meaningless if this is disconnected from the living human spirit residing inside the amazing human body. Keep this in the pocket over your heart,” she said.
The students launched their medical school journey July 5 with four days of orientation. Classes started the following Monday. They had their first exam July 27, which new student Munna Hazime took while battling food poisoning. She was thrilled to feel well enough to attend the ceremony two days later.
“It was definitely a rollercoaster this week,” Hazime said.
The Dearborn native knew as a young girl that she wanted to be a doctor.
“Even when I was in the worst mood, helping people always made me feel wonderful,” she said. “I wanted community, and a school that put effort into its students.”
Hazime was raised by Patty Darwish, who attended the event with her. Hazime’s sister is also in health care, attending dental school. “I’m so proud of both of them. They followed their dreams,” Darwish said.
School of Medicine Dean Wael Sakr, M.D., welcomed the students and nearly 2,000 beaming family members and friends, who cheered and hollered words of love and encouragement throughout the coating portion of the event.
“I’d like to extend congratulations to your families, who were always supporting you to get here. Welcome to the Wayne State medical school,” Dr. Sakr said.
Before the ceremony, classmates Tiffany McKenney and Diana McMahon agreed Detroit is where they’re supposed to be. McMahon grew up Norton Shores, Mich., near Muskegon, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Detroit Mercy.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, since I was 12 years old,” McMahon said. She anticipates a career in Obstetrics and Gynecology to advocate for women and social justice.
“I’m super excited. I’m thankful to be at Wayne,” she said.
McKenney was raised in Detroit, graduated from Detroit Public Schools and received her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University. Medicine is not her first career move. The nontraditional student – those who have two or more gap years between a degree and starting medical school – spent 10 years in supply chain management.
“Wayne State is my home. I love everything it encompasses, being in the heart of the city. Medicine has always been in my heart. I’m so glad to be here,” McKenney said.
The national trend of individuals entering medical school after first careers has been attributed to the effects of two years of COVID-19, during which some wanted more time for volunteerism and clinical experience before applying. Others felt a calling to medicine because of the pandemic itself.
Issac Anderson is among the nontraditional students who make up 40% of the Class of 2026. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Astrophysics from the University of Michigan, where he found himself thinking about the consequences of space on the human body. He spent several years working as a project manager for a public health and safety organization before earning his master’s degree in Molecular and Cell Biology. Like many of the incoming students, Anderson was joined onstage by a physician he selected to coat him – his partner, Steven Bartek, M.D. Fellow classmates selected partners, siblings, parents, grandparents, mentors and more to dress them in the coat.
Each coat given to students was sponsored by either an individual donor or the School of Medicine Medical Alumni Association. The association started the sponsorship program to ease the financial burden of incoming students. After being coated, each student received commemorative pins and a card from Medical Alumni Association President Steven Daveluy, M.D. with sponsorship details for the students.
Keynote speaker Ijeoma Nnodim Opara, M.D., ’08, FAAP, delivered an energetic, humorous and meaningful message of celebration, pride, solemnity and gratitude to attendees.
“You are worthy. You belong here at Wayne State University School of Medicine. You belong to medicine herself, and medicine belongs to you,” she said. “And you get to define what language this coat speaks to the world about you. What you stand for, and how you will use your brilliance, your gifts and talents to advocate for a more just, equitable and therefore healthier planet, starting right here, in the greatest, most powerful city in these United States, the city of Detroit.”
Dr. Opara is a double-board certified assistant professor of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, associate program director of the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics residency, and attending physician with Wayne Health. The Nigerian native is the recipient of the 2022 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award, sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which recognizes the faculty member who demonstrates both clinical excellence and outstanding passion in the delivery of care, and who shows respect for patients, their families and health care colleagues.
The ceremony concluded with Vice Dean of Medical Education Richard Baker, M.D., leading the Class of 2026 in the recitation of the Declaration of Commitment.