Thirty Honored at White Coat Ceremony

July 31, 2014

ALLIANCE, Ohio – Nearly 300 people were in attendance July 17 as the University of Mount Union held its fifth annual Physician Assistant Studies Program White Coat Ceremony. This ceremony marked the transition of 30 students from classroom learning to the clinical phase of their physician assistant studies graduate education.

Sharon Luke, who serves as the program director of Mount Union’s Physician Assistant Studies Program as well as associate professor and chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, welcomed everyone attending the special occasion and explained to the audience the true meaning of the White Coat Ceremony. Dr. James Perone, associate dean of the faculty, also congratulated students for reaching this exceptional milestone in their educational career and thanked faculty members for moving the Physician Assistant Studies Program forward.

For 15 consecutive months, students in the program have been challenged in the classroom to learn from textbooks, instructors and case studies. Now, students will soon begin a year of clinical rotations at hospitals, physicians’ offices and clinics where they will put their knowledge and expertise into practice.

Dr. Michael Holder Jr., vice president of the center for simulation and integrated healthcare education at the Austen Bioinnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA), served as the keynote speaker for the ceremony.

“A lot of critics out there are saying that these ceremonies create a sense of entitlement or unearned reverence that may be unhealthy and in turn foster a divide that separates patients from caregivers,” Holder said. “When you don your white coat, you are taking responsibility. When you walk into your first patient care rotation, you’ll be recognized as a person who can give expert advice. Patients don’t know what qualifications you have. If they see that white coat, what they see is a healthcare professional and they want to trust you. They think that you have a unique ability to take care of them.”

“Wearing the coat brings great responsibility,” he continued. “You have to maintain your compassion, your integrity and your professionalism in all that you do. If you don’t wear the coat correctly, you can jeopardize our mission as healthcare providers. In that case it does communicate entitlement and superiority.”

Holder spoke to the students finishing the PA program and reminded them of what is in store for them as healthcare professionals.

“Its not going to be easy,” he warned. “Things that are really worth doing are never easy to accomplish. You will often feel overwhelmed. First, remember how you got here. Think about the school, your parents and loved ones. Second, don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know.’ There is no shame in not knowing something. There is only shame in a lack of effort to acquire that information. Use these opportunities to learn and grow. Third, be a team player. Make a contribution to the world around you.”

After speaking to students about the characteristics of people who will find success, he gave them one final piece of advice.

"The medical field is always changing,” he said. “Be prepared to never stop learning. You have to develop the inner drive and inner hunger to keep up.”

Holder is helping to create a nationally recognized model for simulation-based education and training programs. A passionate and active educator, he serves as associate dean of clinical education at NEOMED and a member of its Pediatric Council and Diversity Council. Prior to joining the ABIA, he was the director of medical education and an attending physician in pediatric emergency medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital where he established Akron Children’s multidisciplinary simulation laboratory in 2007. He has also served on the staff at the National Cancer Institute and Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Following the keynote address, each student received his or her white coat from their academic advisor. After receiving their coats, the students, in unison, took the physician assistant oath, a pledge of professionalism.

About the Physician Assistant Studies Program
The Physician Assistant Studies Program at Mount Union is the University’s first master’s level program in nearly a century. The program, which began in May of 2009, offers a curriculum rich in biomedical and clinical preparatory sciences and develops the medical decision-making and problem-solving skills that may be applied to patient situations encountered in clinical practice. The role of a physician assistant in medical practice is to be a caring, compassionate advocate for the patient and to spend more time with the patient than the physician can in providing patient education. Students within the program will earn a master of science degree after successful completion of 27 months of coursework and clinicals.

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