To the applause of their faculty, deans, Interim Provost Ramprasad Balasubramanian, and Chancellor Mark Fuller, 115 sophomore nursing students celebrated the halfway point of their nursing education during the 8th Annual White Coat Ceremony.
For these students, who have now begun their clinical training at local hospitals and healthcare centers, this celebration has been a long time in coming. After having their senior year of high school cancelled as the Covid-19 pandemic spread across the U.S., conducting their college searches virtually, and spending their freshman year remotely, the in-person ceremony and recognition felt special.
“This is really exciting,” said Chloe Waff ’24 of Franklin, MA. “It shows how far we’ve come. Nursing is difficult, but it will be worth it in the end.”
Held in the Main Auditorium, the traditional ceremony was held in person for the first time in two years. The White Coat Ceremony is considered a formal welcome to the nursing profession as students advance from full-time classroom and laboratory learning to clinical practicums with patients.
Following the cloaking by Assistant Professors Paula Walsh and Peeranuch LeSeure, each student received a rose and a “Keeping Healthcare Human” pin from the Gold Foundation, which initiated the White Coat Ceremony in 1993 and helped to sponsor the event.
Speakers offer advice, encouragement, and praise
“For the nursing profession, the ceremony symbolizes a commitment to compassionate, humanistic, patient-centered care rooted in scientific proficiency,” said Dean Kimberly Christopher in her welcoming remarks.“I want to publicly recognize our sophomore nursing students who are working to achieve their nursing educational goals under continued exceptional conditions arising out of the public health pandemic crisis,” she added. “Everyone is very proud of our sophomore students as they work in these challenging times.”
In congratulating the students on reaching this point in their nursing education, Chancellor Fuller commented on the uniqueness of the clinical experience. “You will have the opportunity and privilege to experience hands-on learning in a field that is so critical to our future health, and you will make a difference in the lives of others before you graduate.”
Keynote speaker Melanie Mead, RN, graduated from UMassD in 2015 with a degree in psychology, and returned to earn a nursing degree in 2017 in the first cohort of the accelerated RN-BS program. After many twists and turns in her life, beginning in high school, Mead began her educational journey at Bristol Community College at age 40 and earned an associate degree in complementary healthcare before attending UMassD. She works in the Emergency Department at St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, a Level II trauma center that has been facing the Covid-19 pandemic for two years. Mead achieved notoriety last fall when she was interviewed by The Washington Post in a story about frontline nurses during the two-year pandemic.
Mead was in the same place as the nursing students before her. “You all share the same goal: obtaining your RN credentials. From my perspective, the difference seems to be about heart, not purely academic ability. Those whose heart is truly in it, who connect with, and create meaningful and supportive relationships with their peers and faculty, will make it through,” said Mead.
She spoke of her experiences during the pandemic, a time when nurses were stretched beyond anything they had experienced. “You offer support and relief. You will be welcomed with open arms. There is good, lots of good waiting for you.”
Mead recalled her worries about getting Covid, infecting her family, and of being the only car on the road as she drove to work during the state of emergency. “Even during the most uncertain times, I have always remained optimistic and positive. Being a nurse is a blessing and a privilege. Others will lean on you for your guidance and knowledge. You will lean on others for the rest of your careers. Be OK with that. Support one another. Allow others to support you. Let the reasons why you wanted to be a nurse stay in the forefront of your heart and mind.”
Student speaker Stephanie Teixeira ’22 spoke to the students about their upcoming clinicals. “It will bring so many enriching experiences that refine your assessment skills, sharpen your critical thinking, and teach you how to plan appropriate interventions for your patients. You will learn so much and you will be able to do it.
She recalled a particularly difficult day in her clinical experience when she considered giving up nursing but, thanks to the encouragement of a CNA, she kept going. “Do the little things well," Teixeira said. "Bring your best to each day. Give yourself grace. Not knowing how to do something is actually an invitation to learn. There is no shame in that. Remember to be kind, especially to yourself.”
Nursing Class of 2024 pledged to dedicate themselves to the nursing profession
The ceremony concluded with the recitation of the Student Oath, when nursing students pledge to provide the highest quality patient care and services while accepting the duties and responsibilities that embody the profession.
Established in 1993 by the Gold Foundation, the White Coat Ceremony began at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, where Dr. Arnold Gold was a professor. The foundation instituted the ceremony as a way to emphasize humanism in medicine at the very beginning of medical education. In 2014, recognizing the vital role nurses play on the healthcare team, the Gold Foundation partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to broaden its mission. More than 360 schools of nursing now participate in the White Coat Ceremony.