School of Medicine

White coats, bright futures

Dr. Howard J. Federoff with student at white coat ceremony.
Photo credit: Eveline Shih-Pitcairn
Michelle Bardis, center, at white coat ceremony.

Ceremony for new medical students marks first step in journey to become doctors

The next generation of physicians and surgeons took the stage Friday night, Aug. 5, at the UC Irvine Health School of Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony, and thus began their journey to become doctors.

If a journey of a lifetime starts with a single step, the 104 students constituting the Class of 2020 took to their first strides onto the Irvine Barclay Theatre stage before and estimated 650 friends, family and fellow classmates to receive their first physician’s white coat.

The annual event was a both a celebratory and solemn rite of passage, where these future physicians recited the medical student oath and received a pin from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to seal their commitment to provide compassionate and excellent care. Dr. Julianne Toohey, a professor of obstetrics & gynecology and associate dean of student affairs, gave the keynote speech.

“The White Coat Ceremony marks both the end of a long admissions process and celebrates the beginning of their professional career,” said Dr. Ellena Peterson, the School of Medicine’s associate dean of admissions and outreach. “Having family and friends present to celebrate this transition makes this ceremony even more special. In a sense, it is a reverse graduation, one filled with pride, anticipation and hope for the future.”

The ceremony is only part of an orientation process ending with the start of classes on Aug. 8. But more than that, it’s a time when a diverse and driven group of men and women learn about each other and begin to forge lifelong relationships and help lead the transformation of healthcare in the U.S.

“The White Coat Ceremony signifies the beginning of my journey to become a professional healer,” said Michelle Bardis. “This new path is only possible because of my family’s support. I was excited to share the day with them.” 

Each new student joins the greater family of those committed to healing. Their unique stores add to the rich fabric that will link them together always. Bardis, for instance, graduated from Yale University in 2003 with a degree in electrical engineering and received her master’s in this same field from USC two years later. She then worked as an electrical engineer on hardware for U.S. Air Force satellites as well as for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

“I was elated after being accepted to medical school because it marked the beginning of a second career and adventure. I felt that the sacrifices which I made to complete a postbaccalaureate program had been worth the time and effort,” she said. “I hope to become a physician who earns respect and trust from my patients by providing quality care. I also plan to use my knowledge as an electrical engineer for developing or improving upon a technical tool in my future specialty.” 

Richelle Homo, a 2016 biology and chemistry honors graduate from UC Irvine, shared Bardis’ feelings about the White Coat Ceremony.

“To me, the White Coat Ceremony was both a grand celebration and an intimate experience: it celebrated my commitment to the science and human values essential to medical practice and was be a symbol of my sincere gratitude to my parents for being the stronghold of our family,” said Homo, a Regent’s Scholars and an Army Health Professions Scholar who plans to eventually become a physician in the U.S. Medical Corps.

“When they immigrated to the U.S. to open better educational and healthcare services for the family, they could not practice their professions; instead, they held multiple odd jobs to provide basic necessities for me and my siblings while doing everything they could to establish the sentiments of a ‘home’ in a foreign country,” she added. “Their own selflessness and dedication as health professionals did not waiver. I watched my parents pass their board exams and acquire state licenses to practice their health professions here in the U.S. However, they never had the experience of a White Coat Ceremony. And so, I dedicated this White Coat Ceremony to them.”