White coats, bright futures

Members of CMSRU’s charter class officially enter the medical profession.

Their keynote speaker warned the 50 members of the charter class at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) that their new white coats—the very tangible, universally recognizable symbol of their official entry into the medical profession—wouldn’t quite fit.

Not yet anyway.

“They’ll wiggle and tug and try to make it fit,” Darrell G. Kirch, M.D. said as faculty members, the students and their proud families listened during CMSRU’s first-ever White Coat Ceremony on Sept. 21. “(But) it’s not a problem of (needing) a tailor. It’s a problem of experience.

“Don’t try to make it comfortable today,” he told the class. “Wait for the experiences.”

Kirch, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, was correct. Many of the students—a diverse, gifted, passionate class— wiggled a bit, still getting used to the white coat, still marveling at the concept that they’re on the official path to becoming a physician.

But 2012 Rowan biochemistry alumnus Michael Coletta, one of two Rowan graduates in the class, didn’t have that problem. With help from CMSRU faculty member Richard Fischer, M.D., Coletta slid into his white coat with ease.

It fit like a glove.

“It felt right,” Coletta said.

It looked right, too. His blue shirt and tie peeking out from his buttoned-up white coat, Coletta had the appearance of a physician. He beamed as he watched his fellow members of the class don their own white coats, one-by-one, during the ceremony.

One of many 'firsts'

The White Coat ceremony, a tradition at more than 100 medical schools across the country, was one of many “firsts” for CMSRU. A partnership between Rowan and The Cooper Health System, CMSRU is the first new medical school in New Jersey in more than 35 years and the first M.D.-granting medical school ever in South Jersey.

“It’s a huge honor to be part of the first class,” said Coletta, the son of an emergency room physician and a nurse. “It’s very gratifying to be here in Camden.

“It’s unreal how close we are as a class already. There’s a lot of camaraderie here. There’s no feeling of competition.”

During the event, students were “cloaked” by their Advisory College Directors. The colleges are named for Elizabeth Blackwell, Harvey Cushing, William Osler and Benjamin Rush—physicians famous for their groundbreaking influences on the field of medicine.

Later, the students recited and signed the Hippocratic Oath, swearing to fulfill the covenants of being physicians.

'Mantle of the profession'

CMSRU Founding Dean Paul Katz, M.D.  told the gathering that the white coat is “the mantle of the profession,” as recognizable as the black bag or the stethoscope.

“The students will never be looked at the same way again,” Katz said, adding that the white coat also symbolizes the qualities physicians should possess, such as caring, empathy, professionalism and humanism.

“While they have much to learn on their journeys to becoming healers in the true academic sense of the word, donning the white coat marks the first steps on that journey.”

Drawn from more than 2,900 applicants, 74 percent of the charter class hails from New Jersey. They bring with them a wealth of diverse life experiences in fields such as academia, research, the military, performing arts and missionary work. But they all share the drive to become successful physicians and the passion to affect change in their communities. CMSRU administrators sought students who would thrive in their curriculum and who have an interest in positively impacting the lives of residents in the City of Camden.

“I admire the medical school for its deep commitment to recruiting a diverse and service-oriented inaugural class that understands the special challenges the people of Camden face—challenges shared by many of our nation’s cities and rural areas,” Kirch said.

The medical school, he added, “has a unique opportunity to train the next generation of physician leaders who can help create the kind of transformational change our health system needs. This medical school is where it should be. This community has struggled with injustice and inequities in health care.”