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.

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.