Just twice a year, and only for two very special events, do the stirring sounds of bagpipes swirl through the air around UC Davis School of Medicine. Induction – the welcoming of new medical students – is the only other time in the school year besides commencement when the joyous pomp and circumstance of marching pipers honors a group of future physicians.
This year’s welcome event, also known as the ‘White Coat Ceremony’ because of the jacket each student receives and will wear during their four years in medical school, took place in a big tent on the university’s Sacramento campus.
The incoming class of 114 students represents the largest in the school’s history, which was chosen from among the nearly 7,000 School of Medicine applicants. More than half of the students identify as coming from a disadvantaged background, and nearly two-thirds of the class are women.
Along with the benefits of having a diverse group of individuals in a medical school, a common thread among all the students in the Class of 2021 is the desire and passion to help others.
“I always knew I wanted to focus my career in an area that was committed to serving others and promoting equity and justice, but originally I thought that was a career in politics and human rights,” said Hillary Carneal, who realized midway through her undergraduate years that “health as a human right” was something physicians have the ability to influence and improve upon.
Carneal was drawn to UC Davis because of what she saw as “its dedication to community health and wellness, along with a commitment to diversity and acceptance” and a focus on molding future doctors who would be invested in quality and compassionate patient care.
“We look for students with attributes to make them the best physicians in every way and the passion to stand up for the vulnerable and voiceless,” said Francis J. Sousa, assistant dean for Admissions and Student Development. “Our students will become the leaders of tomorrow.”
For Simran Sandhu, the emphasis on patient-centered care that he glimpsed during early visits to UC Davis, plus its renowned clinical and scientific research accomplishments, perfectly matched his interests in helping patients in the clinical setting while also exploring diseases and potential cures in the laboratory.
“I had to hold back tears during the white coat ceremony for several reasons,” said Sandhu, who was born in Brooklyn but grew up outside of Sacramento in the town of Folsom. “I never thought in a million years that I would be in that position of receiving a stethoscope and embarking on a journey to become a practicing physician.”
For Carneal, the emotion of the day came toward the end of the ceremony, when she and her classmates stood up before hundreds of parents and other family members, friends and UC Davis faculty, to read the Physician's Oath.
“My body filled with electricity as I realized the gravity of this undertaking,” Carneal recounted several days later in an email. “And humility quickly set in.”
Facing the crowd, she could see her family members' teary eyes and realized how proud they were of her achievement.
“They reminded me of how privileged I was to have them for support through all of this,” added Carneal. “It was truly an incredible feeling.”