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Dean Steven Gabbe helps first-year medical student Yaa Kumah put on her white coat during the annual ceremony last Friday. This was the first year the event was held in the Chapman Quadrangle, in front of the old medical school entrance. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Medical students receive words of encouragement, white coats


Allen Kaiser, M.D., a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School and vice chair of the department of Medicine and vice chair for Clinical Affairs, celebrates with his two sons Daniel, left, and Clay, right, after they received their white coats last Friday. (photo by Anne Rayner)

8/20/2004 - Allen Kaiser, M.D., a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School and vice chair of the department of Medicine and vice chair for Clinical Affairs, celebrates with his two sons Daniel, left, and Clay, right, after they received their white coats last Friday. (photo by Anne Rayner)

The Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Class of 2008 gathered with their family and friends in the Chapman Quadrangle Friday evening for an event that marked their official entrance into medical school. The Convocation/White Coat Ceremony served as the starting line of their medical education.

“Your graduation day is four laps or four years away,” Steven G. Gabbe, M.D. dean of the School of Medicine, told students. “You will have the support of your friends and families, of your fellow students and of our faculty during your run, but reaching your M.D. degree will demand your individual effort…after your first three laps or three years, you will begin to see the finish line. Your final straight-of-way will be Match Day, and you will cross the finish line in Langford Auditorium to receive your diploma in May 2008.”

Gabbe’s athletic analogy followed a story he told about Sir Roger Bannister, M.D. Fifty years ago, Bannister, while a medical student, was the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes. It was a goal he worked long and hard for; a goal he pursued in combination with pursuing a medical degree.

“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then even thought impossible…,” Gabbe quoted from Bannister’s book, The Four-Minute Mile. “The particular target we seek may not be important. But what is important is the profoundly satisfying effort in thought, feeling and hard work necessary to achieve this success.”

Gabbe explained that Bannister’s accomplishments held lessons for the students. “First, pacing is important. You are beginning your career in medicine. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself carefully,” Gabbe said. “Prepare yourself thoughtfully for each challenge…Manage your time carefully and find the time to do those activities that bring joy to your life. For Bannister, it was his running. For you, it might be music or painting or cooking. And remember the importance of your coaches and of teamwork.”

First-year student Josh Nepute could relate to Bannister’s story. For him, playing piano has been his passion outside of school.

“When I was starting out in piano, there was a contest — the American Music Scholarship Association competition — and if you won that competition, you had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York,” he said. “It was always my dream of being able to perform there. After years of practice and hard work, it finally paid off. I have been able to apply that experience to other aspects of my life, including medicine.”

Nepute said he will carry his love of music with him through medical school.

“I think it will be a great stress relief,” he said.

Nepute is one of 15 students in the Class of 2008 who completed his undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University. Though he hasn’t been able to make space for a piano in his apartment, he said he will continue playing at the Blair School of Music, as he did throughout the last four years.

As first-year student Sofie Rahman received her white coat, Gabbe had to place it lightly on her shoulders; her right arm was in a cast. Rahman began her initiation to medical school as a patient in the hospital.

“We were on our student orientation trip and were swinging from a rope swing into the lake…and I slipped,” she explained.

Rahman said she hadn’t been to the hospital since she was a child, and although it was painful, she soaked in her exposure to the medical world.

“I was definitely more aware of the whole hospital…and of what the doctors were doing,” she said.

Exposure to the hospital environment solidified Sarah Creighton’s desire to become a physician and to join the Class of 2008.

“I spent a summer as a volunteer at the children’s hospital in Minnesota,” she said. “I loved being there, but I hated not knowing what was wrong and not understanding their conditions. But wanting to know and that drive are what have brought me here.”

Like Creighton, Jo Ellen Bennett also volunteered at a hospital; and like Rahman, she has also had some experience in the medical system. In fact, Bennett made the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital her home, as a newborn, before ever seeing her parent’s house.

“I spent 10 days in the Vanderbilt NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) after being at Baptist for about 45 days,” she said. “It’s just so amazing to be able to come here for med school. It’s the biggest dream come true.”

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