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PA White Coat Ceremony

The significance of the white coat is rooted in symbols and for the Physician Assistant (PA) graduates; the donning of their long white coats symbolizes the incredible accomplishment they have achieved.  “Over time, the white coat will become a symbol of your privilege to now live a life of service to all,” said Susan Lelacheur, Dr.P.H., PA-C, director of academic curriculum of the PA program and associate professor of PA studies at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), addressing graduates during the PA White Coat ceremony, May 17. Lisa Mustone Alexander, Ed.D., M.P.H., PA-C, interim chair of the department of PA Studies and program director for the PA program, welcomed the class of 2013 and thanked the family and friends of the graduates for supporting them throughout their journey to becoming PAs.

“The GW PA program is one of the best in the nation,” said Joseph Bocchino, Ed.D.,M.B.A, senior associate dean of health sciences at SMHS, addressing the audience. “It’s one of the best because of the graduates who leave here and make a difference in the fields of medicine and critical care.” Bocchino encouraged graduates to continue this tradition.

All great graduation speeches have three things in common—reflection, appreciation, and advice for the future,” said student speaker, Jennifer Treat, a graduating PA student. Reflecting on the past, Treat reminisced about how her fellow classmates have helped her along the way and the deep appreciation she has for their intelligence, dedication, and passion for the profession. “You have patched up my injuries, helped me study, have been my co-presenters on numerous projects, you have encouraged me and made me laugh,” she said. Treat encouraged for her fellow graduates to never lose their passion. “Be confident and don’t be afraid, love what you do and respect what you do.”

“A great PA constantly asks themselves one question: why?” said keynote speaker, Tami Ritsema, M.P.H., PA-C, academic and research coordinator at the University of Nebraska PA program. Reminiscing about her early days as a PA, Ritsema explained the difference between a regular, technically competent PA and a truly outstanding PA.  “How do you become the PA who makes a difference, the PA who the nurses seek out for their own care, the PA whose patients feel free to cry in front of?” she asked.  According to Ritsema, asking why will “help you grow, force you to go to the medical lecture or to a colleague to answer your question, keep you humble, help you propose changes and improvements to the system in which you work, generate ideas and questions which will spur you to conduct research. “The GW PA program accepts exceptional students with tons of potential,” she said. “We know you can be leaders in our field. Hopefully, we have given you a solid foundation to build on and you will quickly become good PAs.” Even more, Ritsema challenged the graduates to strive to become great PAs. “Our profession needs you, our country needs you, our health system surely needs you, our patients need you. We all need you to be great.”

Following Ritsema’s remarks, Karen A. Wright, Ph.D., associate program director of the PA program and assistant professor of PA studies at SMHS, presented the student leadership award to Kelsey Young for her outstanding service to the PA program and her community. Young received national recognition earlier this year when she was named chief delegate to the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (SAAAPA).  Wright praised Young for her passion to get her fellow PA students involved in SAAAPA and help them gain a better understanding of the issues pertaining to PAs.

Next, 62 graduates of the class of 2013 walked across the stage of the Betts Theater and put on their long white coats for the first time.

 In closing, the students recited the PA oath, committing themselves to a lifetime of treating their patients with dignity and respect while providing quality care. This ceremony kicked off graduation weekend, where graduates celebrated with family and friends.