This week, members of the University of Colorado School of Medicine class of 2026 became new medical students, entering medicine at a critical and often tumultuous time.
“The current state of the world can be characterized by polarized beliefs, inequitable treatment, violence, and legitimate concerns about the state of our democracy,” said Brian Dwinnell, MD, FACPassociate dean of student life in the CU School of Medicine, Friday morning to the assembled class of 2026. “Understanding the social and personal influences on an individual’s health has never been more critical. Despite the technological advances in diagnosis and treatment, the power of empathy has never been greater.”
It wasn’t a warning but a call to hope and a reaffirmation of the determination and courage that brought the new incoming class of aspiring physicians to Friday morning’s White Coat Ceremony, an annual tradition that welcomes new classes of medical students to the profession and to the family of medicine.
CU School of Medicine faculty and staff, as well as students’ family and friends, attended Friday’s White Coat Ceremony.
“Some have criticized the glorification of the white coat as a sign of elitism, but that is certainly not our intent,” Dwinnell said. “Our goal is to send the message that in your careers, you need to realize that a truly competent physician is one who balances excellence in science and clinical skills with compassionate patient care for all of the individuals in our communities. There’s no doubt in my mind that the ceremony serves to alert students to the importance of developing into humanistic and caring physicians.”
Listening and learning from patients
The class of 2026 represents 28 US states and includes 22 students who were born outside the United States. Among the total class numbers, 17% are first-generation students.
A member of the Class of 2026 participates in the White Coat Ceremony.
Students were encouraged to embrace the diversity of their class as a strength because “the hard work ahead is actually in healing the divides that separate many of us for our neighbors,” said Shanta Zimmer, MDsenior associate dean for education and associate dean of diversity and inclusion in the CU School of Medicine. “As a physician, you will be able, required, and most importantly, absolutely privileged to care for people who are different from yourself. That is a gift medicine gives us and one that the white coat figuratively affords you. The gift of closeness and trust from another human being during some of their most difficult times.”
As they begin on what will be years of medical education and training, members of the class of 2026 were reminded that medicine is an art as well as a science, balancing the rigors of research and more clear-cut answers with the nuance and humanity found at bedsides and in exam rooms.
“You will learn about your patients — about their children, their current and previous occupations, their love of puzzles and chess and knitting and hiking, their dislike of cheese, as well as blood draws and potassium pills and the dreaded side effects from their cancer therapies,” said Amira del Pino-Jones, MD, assistant dean of student affairs in the CU School of Medicine. “You will listen to and learn from their families — how things used to be when they were healthy, and the difficulties they may now be experiencing in the face of illness.”
Del Pino-Jones emphasized that as physicians they will learn about their patients’ challenges in navigating the health care system and the biases they may have faced. “You will listen to your patients’ hopes and fears and help them articulate how they wish to live the rest of their lives,” she added. “With each patient encounter, you will become part of their story and them a part of yours. You will learn about love, joy, grief, humility, and humanity, and it is these things that will propel you forward and make you strive to do better for all of your patients.”
“An exciting time to be entering into medicine”
Friday’s White Coat Ceremony also honored 22 inductees to the Gold Humanism Honor Society, members of the CU School of Medicine Class of 2023 who have shown extraordinary commitment to humanistic patient care, said Steven Lowenstein, MD, MPHassociate dean for faculty affairs and Gold Humanism Honor Society chapter advisor.
“Thank you for all those times you put your own well-being on hold, just for a moment longer, so that you might make a difference in someone else’s life,” Lowenstein told the inductees.
Each member of the Class of 2026 received a stethoscope donated by a CU School of Medicine alumnus.
Members of the Class of 2026 were also recognized during the ceremony when they received their white coat and a stethoscope donated by a CU School of Medicine alumnus. In an honor statement written by members of the class, they pledged “to embody the tenets of curiosity, commitment, and leadership” as they strive to conduct themselves with honor, humor, humility, and kindness.
“Students, now is an exciting time to be entering into medicine,” Zimmer said. “Not only is the explosion of science, technology, innovation, and discovery something that we are excited to embrace with you and watch you lead forward, but it is also a time when society needs leadership from citizens like us – like you – who are compassionate, thoughtful, and called to be focused on something outside of our own interests.”