When the class of 2024 began their studies this summer at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they knew their medical school experience would be different from the classes that came before them. The same was true for their White Coat Ceremony, held on Friday.

[Aubrey Knight]: Normally the white coat ceremony is the second most highly attended ceremony that we have behind graduation but obviously COVID affected the way we're delivering it. But we want this to be as meaningful as any White Coat Ceremony we've ever had.

[Kristina Gueco]: It was a little bit different this year compared to previous years because none of our family and friends could physically be here with us but we did everything we could to try to make it special. 

[Casey Engel]: Obviously it was a really exciting moment and we wish that our family and loved ones could be there with us but we put together a video compilation of what everyone's family would be here saying and telling us and so it was really special to get to see that all together and see everyone else's family the way that we would normally be meeting them.

[Family well wishes]: Congratulations! Love and congratulations to you on this very special day. Give your best to the world and the best will come back to you.

[Casey]: And I just I think it was really cool for us  all to get that moment right after we put our coats on.

[Kristina]: We had a nice video compilation of well wishes and congratulations and i love you from our families and friends as well as a bunch of letters that we could go and read as well. So it ended up being a really nice ceremony.

[Andrew Strohman]: I got a letter from my dad and my mom. It was really weird. I started uh started reading it and someone started chopping onions in front of everyone. I looked around there wasn't a dry eye and it was very meaningful. 

[Kristina]: Getting a white coat feels completely different than what I imagined it to be in a way it feels a lot more a lot more profound than what I had previously pictured. It's an honor really. I'm just so lucky to go to Virginia Tech where the faculty and the staff and everybody really cares  about trying to give us that white coat experience despite COVID.

[Aubrey Knight]: The reason the White Coat Ceremony   exists in medical schools across the country is to remind students of that very important aspect of empathy, compassion, and humanism in taking care of their patients.

[Kristina]: We're super   excited that we're starting the path to becoming doctors and getting to see patients and just fulfill our dreams of helping people.

[Andrew]: It's a big moment in our journey so to be able to figure out a way to do that was very meaningful to everybody.

[Kristina]: I'm so proud of my classmates I know they're all going to be fantastic doctors and I can't wait to grow up and develop with them as physicians. 

In order to have a ceremony in person, public health guidelines were followed. All attendees wore a mask or face covering. Typically, white coat ceremonies draw a large crowd of family and friends, but this year, guests were extremely limited to only a loved one who lives with the student. Other friends, family, faculty, and community members were asked to attend virtually through a livestream. Students were widely spaced out in the Jefferson Center’s Shaftman Auditorium where the event was held.

Still, the ceremony still had a celebratory feel, recognizing each student’s hard work to get into medical school and complete the first block of study. “The purpose of the ceremony is to clarify for our students that a physician’s responsibility is to both take care OF patients and to care FOR patients,” said Aubrey Knight, senior dean for student affairs.

Dean Lee Learman helps Brandon Ganjineh into his new white coat.
Dean Lee Learman helps Brandon Ganjineh into his new white coat.

The evening’s keynote speaker, Lisa Uherick, associate professor of emergency medicine and medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, gave each student a stone to remind them that bumps and friction along their journey will help shape them into polished physicians.

“You were born with inherent value. As medical school and life tumble and rub you, don’t be discouraged,” said Uherick. “You are simply learning to shine!”

Dean Lee Learman reminded students that while the ceremony is different this year, there is still a reason for celebration. “We hope that each of our students will take in the moment and feel the joy of this occasion. We also hope that your sense of celebration and meaning will transcend today and accompany you, like the coat, throughout your careers in medicine.”

After each student came up to the stage and donned in their new, freshly pressed white coat, there were a couple of surprises. Family and friends sent in brief videos to celebrate and congratulate their student and classmates that were played near the conclusion of the ceremony. Loved ones also sent letters that each student opened and read, allowing those who couldn’t be there in person to be part of the ceremony in some way.

Students watch a video of well wishes from family, friends, and loved ones.
Students watch a video of well wishes from family and friends.
Some students got emotional watch a video of well-wishes from loved ones.
Some students expressed emotion while watching a video with clips of family and friends who were unable to attend the ceremony in person.
Student reads a letter
Students read letters submitted by loved ones who were unable to attend the ceremony in person.
Students give each other a round of applause.
Students and guests give the class a round of applause at the end of the ceremony.

View the full white coat ceremony