The White Coat Ceremony marks the start of intensive clinical learning experiences for the 37 members of the program's Class of 2020.
Members of the Elon University Physician Assistant Studies program’s Class of 2020 on Friday were encouraged to carry inspiring lessons offered through three proverbs with them as they received their white coats—a tradition that officially moves the class from the academic study of medicine to practicing it in clinical settings.
The program’s White Coat Ceremony held Dec. 7 is considered a rite of passage for those studying to become physician assistants, as well as a commitment to being a skilled and caring provider in the future.
These students arrived at Elon in January to begin the 27-month program, with the first phase centered on academic medicine and establishing a foundation of medical knowledge. Following the White Coat Ceremony, the focus shifts to clinical medicine and practical experience, with students spending the bulk of their time working with patients and immersed in the caregiving environment.
In his keynote address, Dr. Timothy E. Oaks, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at Cone Health, shared a story about Katerina Mueller, a nurse midwife from Germany who ran a health-care practice in Salem, North Carolina, in the late 1700s and had the opportunity to treat then-President George Washington who had an abscess on his thigh. She was later recognized for her commitment to patients and encouraged to write a book. She wrote a book of proverbs instead. Oaks shared three of those proverbs that remain as true and applicable today as they were in the 1700s, he said.
“The eyes cannot see what the mind does not know,” Oaks said. “Katerina correctly explained that if you do not know that a disease exists, it is highly unlikely that you will ever diagnose it, let alone cure a patient who has it. Knowledge is the absolute foundation to your success. Without it, you will be forever perplexed and frustrated.”
The Class of 2020 was reminded that they should never be ashamed of saying, “I don’t know” as long as they still care “for arrogance in medicine will surely lead to an unwelcomed outcome,” Oaks said.
It was while eating a breakfast of ham and eggs that Katerina stumbled upon the second proverb that Oaks shared. “The chicken is involved but the pig is committed.” The statement was met with laughter but Oaks explained its importance. “Katerina wanted her students to understand that it was not enough to be involved in a patient’s care like the chicken, but you had to be committed like the pig. You had to have some skin in the game.”
He told the group that it is not enough to just listen to the complaints of patients but rather “it was best to understand the entire conversation including all the words that were left unsaid,” Oaks said. “Be committed, not involved. Make the extra phone call. Ask just a few more questions. Spend a few more minutes with the family.”
The last proverb that Oaks shared, he said, was the hardest to implement. “Today’s science is tomorrow’s folly,” he said. “… Some things that you learned will no longer be applicable in 20 years, two years or maybe even two weeks.”
He encouraged them to keep learning, even after they’ve earned their degrees. “Never be complacent with your education,” he said. “Every day is filled with unlimited potential for knowledge and remember that the man who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.”
Jen Baker and Max Wilmot, co-presidents of the PA Class of 2020, took the time to offer thanks to faculty, staff and fellow students for all that they have meant during the first year of the program.
“Our professors told us from day one that they can’t make the mountain any smaller, but they can be our Sherpa along the journey,” Baker said. “And that they did. It is truly something that I admired when I decided to come to Elon. Every one of the faculty members made you feel like your journey mattered to them on a personal level, like we were part of their family and they were so excited to celebrate along with us for all of our accomplishments. And like family, they were also there when we struggled.”
The Class of 2020 is the sixth class for Elon’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies program, which received recognition and continued accreditation by The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, the national accrediting body.
The Class of 2020