The White Coat Ceremony is a respected tradition for dental, medical and other healthcare students that signifies the transition from preclinical studies to clinical care. At the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine (CU SDM), students earn their white coats at the end of their second year of the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program or their first year of the Advanced Standing International Student Program (ISP).
So, what does it mean to earn your white coat? Of course, it is a crucial step in becoming a health professional. It means you have completed the required learning to begin caring for actual patients. It also comes with reading the dental oath; students pledge themselves “to the service of humanity, my patients, my community, and my profession.”
In addition to the historical and professional importance of the white coat, each student who walks across that stage has a story that brings a unique and personal significance to this milestone.
Shawg Ahmed (DDS ’24) is a first-generation student who grew up in a single-parent household. She was born in Sudan, grew up in Denver, Colorado, and studied Integrative Physiology at CU Boulder. She says, “earning my white coat is not just a celebration for me, but it is more of a celebration of my family’s hard work.”
As a person with type 1 diabetes, Ahmed saw how diabetes poorly affected her teeth. "I knew dentistry was for me because I can personally empathize with patients who struggle with their oral health due to overall systemic health issues.”
Before dental school, she participated in the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program (UPP), which helped her learn to challenge herself academically. “UPP has prepared me to be well-rounded in understanding healthcare disparities and being able to tie dental care needs to the population I am serving.”
Fernando Deon (ISP ’23) was a practicing oral and maxillofacial surgeon in his home country of Brazil for several years before pursuing a career in the US. He comes from a family of dentists: his father is a general dentist; his sister is a periodontist, and his brother is an orthodontist. “My father has been my biggest inspiration. Seeing him practice has made me realize how important dentistry is for people’s lives.”
Deon is part of the Advanced Standing International Student Program, a two-year accelerated DDS program offered to dentists who earned a bachelor’s degree in dentistry outside the US. He says he chose to study at CU SDM because the school “is known for innovation and comprehensive dental education, preparing professionals to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners."
In his first year of study, Deon learned that “dentistry is made in the details, where knowledge must be evidence-based, and skills come from unceasing training.”
He says, “earning my white coat marks the beginning of patient care, where I will have the opportunity to develop clinical skills to practice dentistry with the highest standards of care as taught by CU School of Dental Medicine.”
Rachel Bryant-Rawlings (DDS ’24) grew up in Monument, Colorado, and chose to study dental medicine at CU SDM so that she could be close to family. “They have been the greatest support system,” she says. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in allied health from Azusa Pacific University in California, Bryant-Rawlings worked as a dental assistant at a pediatric office in Colorado Springs. She was inspired by the dentists at the practice.
While she does not know yet what she would like to do after graduation, she has learned a lot in her first two years of dental school about the profession, work-life balance, setting priorities, and boundaries.
"I have a 10-month-old son, and I've realized that being a student is a temporary title. It is a steppingstone to a career that will help me provide for my family."
On earning her white coat, Bryant-Rawlings says, “it symbolizes becoming more than a student and entering healthcare as a professional. It is a sign of honor for our hard work as well as the new responsibilities we will have as providers.”
Arane Akeeh (DDS ’24) will be the first in her family of refugees to obtain a doctoral degree. She was born near Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biological science from Arizona State University, she decided to pursue a career in dentistry.
“Dentistry excited me because it is a health career that could also help boost people’s confidence,” she says. “A healthy smile is important for general health and well-being.”
When asked what earning a white coat means to her, Akeeh said “it represents how far I have come from my humble beginnings. It represents how I could make my family and my community proud of me.”
Upon graduation – just two years from now – Akeeh plans to work for the refugee population. “I want to help serve the same community that I was raised in. I want to help people with a similar background to achieve their goals.”
Cameron Birch (DDS ’24) says dentistry is a perfect profession for him: “It is a combination of physics, engineering, creativity, and art, which are some of my greatest interests and passions. Being able to provide healthy, beautiful smiles while interacting with patients on a recurring basis only adds to what makes dentistry such an incredible profession.”
Having grown up in Gilbert, Arizona, and attending the University of Arizona for undergraduate, moving to Colorado for dental school was certainly something new. He says it was the incorporation of technology into the dental curriculum that set CU SDM apart. The commitment to rural healthcare through the Advanced Clinical Training Service (ACTS) Program and using an interprofessional healthcare model to treat patients were also attractive qualities for CU.
Now that he is entering “the real world of clinical care,” Birch says that earning his white coat “is a testament to all the incredibly challenging work that my classmates and myself have endured to get to this point. All of our diligence, emotion, stress and achievement has led to this ceremonious occasion that we can all celebrate.”
This year’s White Coat Ceremony will take place on Friday, May 20, 2022, in the Ed2 South Auditorium on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus with remarks from Dean Kassebaum, Dr. Johnson and others. Students will accept their white coats from Dr. Mediavilla, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Admissions, and Dr. Baskaran, Director of the Advanced Standing International Student Program. For more details and complete lists of 2022 white coat recipients, view the event page.