Feature Stories 2023: White Coat Ceremony presents opportunities for reflection as well as looking ahead

Class of 2025 nursing students on stage
As they celebrated their transition from classroom to clinical learning, nearly 100 College of Nursing & Health Sciences sophomores gathered in the Main Auditorium following the White Coat Ceremony.
Feature Stories 2023: White Coat Ceremony presents opportunities for reflection as well as looking ahead
White Coat Ceremony presents opportunities for reflection as well as looking ahead

Nearly 100 sophomore nursing students celebrate their transition from classroom to clinical education

View a full gallery of photos from the White Coat Ceremony and enjoy the memories.

In many ways, the 9th Annual White Coat Ceremony celebrating nearly 100 sophomore nursing majors felt like a graduation. Held in the Main Auditorium and sprinkled with words of congratulations and encouragement from the evening’s speakers, pride on the faces of the students, and loud cheers from their families—along with those new white coats—this special celebration marked a new phase of UMass Dartmouth’s nursing students’ educational journey.

The White Coat Ceremony has been hosted annually by the College of Nursing & Health Sciences since 2014 and marks the transition of students’ learning from the classroom to a clinical setting. Moving on from the rigorous coursework of their first two years in the BSN program, these sophomore nursing students began their clinical experiences this semester at area hospitals and healthcare centers.

“Students, your clinical experience is a giant step forward in your nursing education and you have worked hard to be prepared to provide clinical nursing care,” said CNHS Dean Kimberly Christopher. “Let me emphasize that providing clinical care is a responsibility and also a privilege. For it is a privilege to serve and care for individuals, families, and communities, and to maintain their trust of us as professional nurses.”

While the atmosphere was celebratory, the theme of the evening’s speeches was of support as each speaker encouraged students to find their support system and expressed gratitude for those who helped them reach this milestone—families, faculty, friends, and fellow students.

Provost Hanchen Huang offered congratulations on behalf of Chancellor Mark Fuller, who was traveling and unable to attend the ceremony.

“With so much impact for you to make in society, the remaining two years are a valuable time for you to maximize your learning and clinical training at this great university,” said Provost Huang. “There will be fun times. There will also be challenging times. You have gone this far with your hard work and dedication, as well as with the support of your family and friends. Your dean, the faculty and staff of CNHS, and all of us are here to support you for continued success. Keep up your great work. You have a bright future and an impactful career waiting for you.”

Director of Membership, MA Nurses Assn.
Joe-Ann Fergus, PhD, RN, the director of division membership for the MA Nurses Assn., urged the nursing students to use their skill and their voice to advocate for patient as "sentinels of the healthcare system."

Guest speaker motivates nursing students to advocate

Joe-Ann Fergus, RN, PhD, MA, a mediator and director of the Division of Member Services for the Massachusetts Nurses Association and an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College in Boston, was the evening’s guest speaker. Fergus motivated students to act as advocates for their patients and their profession.

“Today, you officially embark on the next step of your journey toward becoming a nurse. To be standing here watching the next generation of nurses coming into the profession is profoundly humbling,” she said.

“On this leg of your journey, I encourage you to cultivate your village. Recruit members of the village who mentor and support you and hold you up.

“As registered nurses, we only begin to actualize our purpose when we understand that we are the voice for the sick, vulnerable, and marginalized when they don’t have a voice. To serve without judgment of class, race, economic status, or creed. We are the sentinels of the healthcare system. Our role, our charge, our purpose demands that we use our science, our skill, and our craft in defense of our patients and our profession wherever we encounter them.”

Nursing students being cloaked
Jovia Nakalembe is excited to receive her white coat, symbolizing her responsibilities as a medical professional, as she begins her clinical education.

“Celebrate these moments,” nursing junior says

Junior Leah Burrell spoke about how it felt to embark on the same journey as the student nurses in the audience.

“We go forward continuing to focus on climbing that ladder, thinking each step is normal but the reality is, we are achieving great things that most individuals never get to do. That is why today is so important.

“We are never truly alone if we are in it all together. The friendships made in nursing school are truly lifelong. The key to persevering in this program, other than showing up to class, doing your work, preparing for clinical, for exams, is support. With the amazing professors, friends, family, and those who are currently here celebrating you, remind yourself that you deserve to be here, you deserve to be proud of yourself, and celebrate these moments.”

Eugenie Ouedraogo
Eugénie Ouedraogo shared her experience as a guest of MA Senator Elizabeth Warren at President Joe Biden's State of the Union address in February. Ouedraogo met the senator when she spoke about the need for affordable day care in order to attend nursing school.

A special experience shared

A member of the class, Eugénie Ouedraogo, shared a special experience with her classmates. On February 7, she was a guest of MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren at President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address. When the senator visited Triumph Head Start in Taunton two years ago, Ouedraogo caught the senator’s attention as she advocated for affordable child care that enables her to attend nursing school.

“Affordable child care is essential to me as a nursing student and a mother of three. Without the ability to pay for quality child care, I could not attend nursing school and fulfill my dreams of becoming a nurse,” said Ouedraogo. It was an honor to accept Senator Warren’s invitation as her guest and be the face of our nationwide fight for affordable and consistent childcare. My visit to the State of the Union was filled with many emotional and unforgettable moments, topped with President Joe Biden’s address.

“We are also grateful to UMass Dartmouth, my school and my home, for the fantastic support that keeps coming.”

Nursing students celebrating after the ceremony
The White Coat Ceremony was a night of celebration and reflection for sophomore nursing students, who began their clinical training this semester.

Ceremony rewards students’ hard work and dedication

As they celebrated the halfway point of their nursing education, students reflected on their accomplishment.

“I feel so excited, I feel like I accomplished something great,” said Chelsey Matos of New Bedford. “I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead.”

“All the hard work has finally paid off,” said Martin Dafov of Taunton. “I feel great. This is a big milestone that has really motivated me to push myself for the next two years.”

Male nursing students in audience
Jake Heaslip (left) and Martin Dafov enjoy the White Coat Ceremony.

White Coat Ceremony symbolizes a commitment to patient-centered care

As Dean Christopher explained, in 1993, the White Coat Ceremony was designated by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation as a way of welcoming students into the medical profession and setting expectations about their role as future physicians. The cloaking with the white coat symbolizes the mantle of the medical professionals’ responsibilities.

In 2014, the foundation broadened its mission to engage members of the entire health care team. For the nursing profession, the ceremony symbolizes a commitment to compassionate, holistic, patient-centered care rooted in scientific proficiency.

Following the cloaking, each student received a commemorative pin from the foundation “as a reminder of their oath to keep healthcare human.”

Female students in audience
Sarah DeCastro (left) and Mikayla E. Camara are excited as they wait to receive their white coats before their faculty, families, and friends.