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A Journey of A Thousand Miles

The M.D. class of 2017 took their first step toward physician-hood at the White Coat and Honor Code Ceremony

“Your wardrobe is about to get a significant upgrade,” Michael Simon joked with the audience as he welcomed the M.D. class of 2017, along with their family and friends, to the White Coat and Honor Code Ceremony, Aug. 24. Simon, a second-year medical student at the George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) and co-chair of the event along with fellow second-year students Divya Chalikonda and Margarita Ramos, encouraged the incoming class of medical students to “revel in the feelings you have right now as you anticipate that moment when you slip your arms into the sleeves of your new identity — a GW medical student.”

Simon introduced GW President Steven Knapp, Ph.D., who welcomed the 190 first-year students to the 11th oldest medical school in the United States. Knapp acknowledged the students’ choice of a “lifelong vision of caring for others” and praised their dedication to a “long and arduous, be we also hope a joyous road of preparation.”

“You have chosen to come to the George Washington University because you know that here you will learn the art of medicine in a vibrant urban setting, which also happens to be the seat of power and policy in the modern world,” Knapp said. He urged the new students to become involved with the many opportunities available to them in the nation’s capital. “Opportunities for hands-on learning, direct service, and cultural enrichment, as well as opportunities to explore the profound connections between the care of patients and the broader public health and public policy context that will affect every aspect of you and your patients’ lives.”

Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, G.M.E. ’85, vice president for health affairs and dean of SMHS, next extended his enthusiastic congratulations to the incoming class. He offered three pieces of advice to the students, each symbolized by the life of the university’s namesake, George Washington. “One, aspire to greatness. Two, be prepared for revolutionary change in medicine, in science, in health care policy, and, most importantly, in your identity. And three, never forget that honesty and integrity are the central components of the physician identity.” Akman recounted the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree and told students that “we will not arm you with a hatchet, but with a far less dangerous tool — a mighty reflex hammer,” whose resemblance in shape to the hatchet he hopes will forever provide students with a link to the inspiring story of their university’s namesake. As for the other symbol of the day, Akman encouraged the students to wear the white coat proudly and to hold themselves in uprightness and honor on their path toward earning a medical degree.

Second-year medical student Travis Hase next welcomed the class of 2017 to the SMHS community and to their new, larger community — the District of Columbia. Hase praised the city as a unique place to study medicine because of its high degree of diversity, in every sense of the word. “One day you may be treating a member of Congress, and the next it may be the homeless veteran you pass by each day,” he said. Hase invited the new students to take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the variety of patients, but also stressed the importance of learning about more than just their illnesses. “Learn about their cultures as well. Medicine is a profession of the human experience and physicians interact with their patients at the level that makes us all human.” Hase also encouraged the students to wear their new white coats with humility. “Don’t allow the confidence your white coat may give you fool you into believing that you do, should, or even will know how to handle every situation. Rather, use that confidence to confront those challenging situations head-on and use them to learn to be better physicians.”

Mark Surrey, M.D. ’72, clinical professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, provided the ceremony’s keynote address. Surrey, a reproductive surgeon, is co-founder and medical director of the Southern California Reproductive Center, the region’s leading fertility center.

Surrey referred to the students as the new gatekeepers of the world’s health, and challenged them to “stay in the moment and enjoy where you are, and to do so with integrity.” He reminded the audience that there is a reason people often toast to health — “because it’s the most important thing in this world.” He acknowledged that the next four years would not be easy for the incoming students, but recalled a phrase his father often used — you get nothing for nothing. “You’re going to have to work hard,” Surrey said, “but you’re on your way to the most exciting journey you could possibly have.”

Following Surrey’s remarks, SMHS’ newest M.D. students crossed the stage one-by-one as their names and educational backgrounds were read aloud. Akman assisted each student into his or her white coat and ushered them toward the honor code, which awaited their signature. Once every student had donned their white coat and signed the code, Akman led them in the recitation of the SMHS oath. “We recognize the excellence and commitment of those from whom we will learn,” the students recited. “We promise to pursue responsibly our calling to patient care, to service, and to research. We commit ourselves to the highest standards of academic honesty, scientific integrity, and ethical practice as students and in our professional lives.” And with that, the M.D. class of 2017’s journey to physician-hood officially began.

To view the photo album from the event, visit: