The Foster School of Medicine Class of 2024 received their first white coats as part of the time-honored White Coat Ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 26. The Foster School of Medicine, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, held its first White Coat Ceremony in 2009 to welcome its inaugural class of medical students.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first year that the medical school’s deans did not place the coats on the future doctors. Following social distancing protocols, each of the 116 students in the class of 2024 approached the podium and gave a short message of gratitude to those who helped them reach this milestone. Gordon Woods, M.D., associate professor of Internal Medicine and college mentor, gave the keynote address.
At this year’s ceremony, the Foster School of Medicine continued its own tradition with its twelfth class. The class of 2024 were welcomed by faculty and staff, the El Paso community and fellow Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso students.
Foster School of Medicine students thanked Dionicio Alvarez, M.D. and his wife, Alice Alvarez for their generous investment in sponsoring half of the white coats for the second year in a row. The couple was successful in challenging additional donors to fund the remaining white coats for the entire Class of 2024. The Southwest Association of Hispanic American Physicians sponsored 20 white coats this year, along with a number of TTUHSC El Paso donors and alumni. Each of the white coat donors are supporting medical students on their journey to become the next generation of health care heroes in a career of selfless service to others.
“This ceremony is about more than just symbolism and your class oath,” said Linda S. Ellis, M.D., Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the Foster School of Medicine in her speech to the class. “it is the opportunity for our faculty across the campus to show our commitment to teaching you, learning from you, and supporting each and every one of you throughout your journey here at the Foster School of Medicine. We honor you and welcome your family, friends, and loved ones to be part of our family here at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.“
Charmaine Martin, M.D., assistant dean for student affairs, and one of the ceremony’s speakers noted the challenges of learning during the time of COVID-19, including virtual learning. Dr. Martin is also an associate professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Foster School of Medicine.
“Every class from the Foster School of Medicine has faced individual challenges, and each class has overcome those challenges, whether it was opening up a new school, establishing a student-run clinic, or adjusting to changes in the curriculum,” Dr. Martin said. “We also solemnly remember recent tragedies that happened in our beloved city that affected the entire community. It’s important to note that each class has risen to the occasion and conquered those challenges because of the grit and resilience of its students. The class of 2024 certainly has had their unique set of challenges before even setting foot on campus, and like their predecessors, they will also conquer these challenges.”
For El Pasoan Mariah Perkins, receiving a white coat means the world to her.
“It symbolizes the beginning of our journey into the profession of medicine,” Perkins said. “Personally, the white coat means more than just being on my way to becoming a physician – it’s a reminder of the effort I’ve already put in and the determination to continue. It reflects the values of what I think it means to be a great doctor: compassionate, competent, altruistic, diligent and purposeful.”
Perkins would like to practice medicine in El Paso if the opportunity arises.
“Giving back to my hometown and the people in my community will always be a special reason why I want to stay and practice here,” Perkins said.
COVID-19 has created a different experience in Perkins’ first year that she couldn’t have imagined.
“Being secluded from my classmates and learning from home has been difficult, but the faculty has done their best to help us transition as smoothly as possible,” Perkins said. “Taking the Medical Skills course in person has helped ease some of the isolation blues, and the hands-on experience helps me stay motivated each week. I hope to physically be in class soon, but until then, I know with the support of the school, we’ll be just fine.”
In her address to the students, Dr. Martin asked them to remember their reasons for attending medical school. She also asked students to envision their future and to place patients at the center of their lives. By doing so, their journey through the profession will always have purpose and meaning, she said.
The White Coat Ceremony is a traditional rite of passage for entering medical students. Started in 1993 by Arnold P. Gold and his foundation, the ceremony is designed to remind students of the humanism inherent in their chosen field. Since its inception at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, the white coat tradition has expanded to 97% of medical schools throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Currently, there are more than 500 graduates of the Foster School of Medicine who have become or are on their way to becoming practicing physicians. The 88-member class of 2020 included 16 medical students who matched to residency programs in El Paso; 15 of those matched to programs at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. This is just shy of the record 18 Foster School of Medicine students who matched to residencies in El Paso in Spring 2019.
Medical residents often remain in the region in which they are trained, fulfilling the Foster School of Medicine’s mission to increase the number of practicing physicians in the El Paso region.
When the Foster School of Medicine opened its doors in 2009, there was a 75% shortage of physicians in El Paso compared to the national average. Since that time, the comparative shortage of physicians in El Paso has been reduced to 50%.
From 2009 to 2019, the number of doctors in El Paso grew by 51%, from 1,068 to 1,613, according to the most recent data available.
The Foster School of Medicine has evolved as a leader in clinically focused education thanks to its curriculum, which includes clinical experience within the first year. This is an unconventional approach among most U.S. medical schools, where students typically begin clinical rotations during the third and fourth years of their medical education.
The Foster School of Medicine also features a medical Spanish requirement which helps students provide culturally competent care during medical school and throughout their careers. It was one of the first medical schools in the U.S. to integrate medical Spanish into its curriculum. TTUHSC El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border and serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved and understudied.
Check out our photo gallery from the event: