GW MD Class of 2023 Begins Its Medical Journey

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A GW MD student in a white coat signs a ceremonial oath

It has been more than a decade since Kofi Essel, MD ’11, MPH ’17, crossed the stage at the George Washington University’s (GW) Lisner Auditorium to receive his white coat. In that moment he looked out into the audience and locked eyes with his mother and said “We made it.”

In August 2019, Essel, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) and pediatrician at Children’s National Health System, returned to the stage during the MD White Coat and Honor Code Ceremony at SMHS to deliver the keynote address to the Class of 2023, sharing his own white coat experience, once again with his mother in the audience. 

After a week of orientation activities, the new first-year medical students officially began their medical school journeys at the ceremony. Family members and friends looked on as the students sat in anticipation of beginning their path toward a career in medicine, starting with the walk across the stage to receive their white coats.

“Our expectation is that you are learning medicine at GW and that you will embrace the mission to improve the lives of our local, national, and global communities,” said Jeffrey S. Akman, MD ’81, RESD ’85, vice president for health affairs, Walter A. Bloedorn Professor of Administrative Medicine, and dean of SMHS, in his remarks welcoming the new class. “Wear [your white coat] proudly and hold yourself in uprightness and honor.”

In his address to the students, Essel outlined three tips as they moved forward in medicine. First, recognize the power of the white coat and use it for good. Second, the white coat doesn’t protect wearers from their own biases and that, as physicians, they should recognize the assets and strengths of the populations they serve. Third, the white coat commands a commitment to lifelong learning. He encouraged the students to open themselves to learning about their colleagues and patients and to maintain and expand their medical knowledge.

Fourth-year MD student Rebecca Allen served as the student speaker for the ceremony and offered the wisdom of her own experiences to the incoming class.

“Medicine is serious, but don’t take yourself too seriously,” she advised. “Take time to laugh and keep in touch with your family. Take the opportunity to explore your new home. … The opportunities are vast, don’t let them pass you by.”

Allen encouraged the students to learn from the moments they experience in medical school in addition to what they learn in the classroom. “I will never forget the first time I told a man he had cancer, that he trusted me, that he wanted to hear it from me,” she said. “Those moments stop you in your tracks and remind you, while you are here, to make a difference.”

One by one the students crossed the stage to put on their white coats, sign the SMHS honor code, and begin their four-year journey through medical school.

“You all have made the right decisions,” said Essel. “You have chosen a path that requires incredible sacrifice, empathy, and care. You have chosen a career of service, honor, and most important, civility.”  

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