Ellene Sandoval, Thomas Guttuso Sr., MD, and Susan J. Gallagher, MD.

Incoming medical student Ellene Sandoval receives her white coat from Thomas Guttuso Sr., MD, as Susan J. Gallagher, MD, looks on.

Class of 2018 Takes Oath of Medicine at White Coat Ceremony

Published August 25, 2014 This content is archived.

Story based on news release by Ellen Goldbaum

A new class of 144 University at Buffalo medical students celebrated its entry into medical school with a traditional White Coat Ceremony Aug. 15 at the UB Center for the Arts.

“You have earned the right to wear it. Now you must earn the right to keep it. ”
Michael E. Cain, MD
Vice president for health sciences and dean, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

During the ceremony’s “Calling of the Class,” school officials called students individually to the stage; announced their hometowns and undergraduate institutions; and presented them with white coats — a symbol of their future profession.

Diverse Educational Experiences, Backgrounds

The audience learned of the diverse talents and backgrounds of the new class members.

Most of the incoming students majored in a scientific field, but others majored in art history, accounting, performance studies, African and African American studies, anthropology and environmental studies, among other areas.

Some students earned master’s degrees in diverse fields, including public health, business administration, music and nutrition.

Many students have assisted in medical clinics around the world, including in Haiti, Peru, Belize, Darfur, Uganda, Kenya, Cambodia and Ecuador.

One student is an internationally acclaimed concert violinist, and another developed software for a defense company. Other student experiences include:

  • leading a mobile military surgical unit in Afghanistan
  • developing tactile books for visually disabled children
  • working as a casting editor for “Top Chef”

An Array of Honors, Awards

The incoming students have received numerous accolades for academic excellence, service and other accomplishments.

One was awarded a Merck Award for Scholastic Achievement.

Other honors include: 

  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute scholarships
  • Gates Millennium Scholarship from the United Negro College Fund
  • National Institutes of Health Diversity Grant
  • memberships in Phi Beta Kappa

Class Selected from 4,201 Applicants

The class was selected from a pool of 4,201 applicants, up from last year’s 4,090, according to Charles Severin, MD, PhD, associate dean for medical education and admissions. 

It includes 126 residents of New York State and 18 from out of state. Thirty are UB graduates.

Event is Important Rite of Passage

The white coat ceremony is a symbolic rite of passage shared by medical students across the nation to establish a psychological and ethical contract for professionalism and empathy in the practice of medicine. 

“You have earned the right to wear it. Now you must earn the right to keep it,” said Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the UB medical school, who helped present coats to students.

Keynote: Surgeon Traces White Coat’s History

The white coat symbolizes scientific excellence and compassionate care, but it has a surprising history, according to keynote speaker Helen Cappuccino, MD ’88, an alum of the UB medical school.

She noted that until the latter part of the 19th century, physicians traditionally wore black “to reflect the somber nature of their work.”

In those days, she explained, calling a physician to a loved one’s bedside “was a prelude to death.”

But with scientific discoveries that proved the germ theory of disease and hygienic advances, such as access to clean water, the practice of medicine came to be seen as a healing profession. By 1915, she said, surgeons and other physicians wore white — a color associated with cleanliness and hope.

Cappuccino is an assistant professor of surgery and assistant professor of oncology in the Breast Surgery Division at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Scirto Awarded Humanism Award

During the ceremony, Kirk A. Scirto, MD ’06, clinical assistant professor of family medicine, was presented with the 2014 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award.

Scirto, a medical school alumnus, is volunteer medical co-director of Vive La Casa Refugee Shelter.

Sponsored by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, this annual award recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates outstanding compassion in the delivery of care; respect for patients, their families and health-care colleagues; and demonstrated clinical excellence. 

Medical students nominate outstanding role models for the award.