As they stood white-coated shoulder to shoulder reciting the Oath of Geneva, the voices of the 160 members of the incoming OHSU M.D. Class of 2023 were joined by those of physicians in the audience and the smiles and tears of family members, friends and mentors.
“This is a moment worth slowing down for, a moment of tradition and ritual that symbolizes your transition into medical school and our commitment to walk this path at your side,” said Sharon Anderson, M.D., dean of the OHSU School of Medicine.
The annual White Coat Ceremony, with significant support from the OHSU School of Medicine Alumni Association, marks the beginning of students’ formal training in a field that is increasingly at the nexus of socio-political forces.
“In addition to the medical skills you will learn, you will learn how societal and environmental factors affect human health,” Anderson said.
“Issues of health and health care equity are not just the province of public health professionals; they ARE in our lane,” she said. “Your health can be disparately impacted by where you live, socioeconomic status, gender identity and racial and ethnic background. Climate change and the earth’s warming have adverse effects. And given the horrific events in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton last week, I can tell you that gun violence, and its immediate and long-term effects on physical and psychological health, are also in our lane.”
In her J.S. Reinschmidt Memorial Lecture remarks, Elizabeth Lahti, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and director of the narrative medicine program in the OHSU School of Medicine, encouraged the students to view stories as the building blocks of patient care.
“Today, you are entering into a life of listening to the stories of others. You listen so you can guide and comfort and heal,” Lahti said. “Medicine unfolds in stories. You will ask the question, ‘What brings you here today? Why did you come to the clinic, the emergency department, or the ICU?’ My advice to you is to listen deeply and to remember that hearing and listening are two distinct activities.”
The M.D. Class of 2023 is well-poised to not only listen to their eventual patients but to bring a diversity of stories and perspectives to shape that interaction and their medical training. The class is highly diverse and the school’s most racially diverse ever. Of the 160 medical students matriculating this fall:
“Why does this matter?” asked Anderson. “Because we need physicians with all backgrounds and perspectives to help us improve health and address disparities for all Oregonians by delivering care that is grounded in greater cultural wisdom and humility.”
OHSU has a foundational commitment to prepare physicians to serve Oregon, with an intentional and long-standing focus on rural health. To that end, OHSU is adding an emerging focus on indigenous health. The OHSU Northwest Native American Center of Excellence, a partnership among OHSU, Portland State University and all 43 Northwest Indian tribes, is working to increase Native American voice in U.S. health professions.
Five members of the M.D. Class of 2023 are members of the first cohort of the center’s Wy’East Post-Baccalaureate Pathway, which prepares Alaska Native and American Indians to excel in medical school.
“I’m so much more confident and comfortable not only in the idea of becoming a physician but just starting medical school,” said Kyna Lewis, a Tlingit Alaskan Native and Wy’East cohort member. “I found a place where I actually belong. I have a community. That’s more than I could have ever hoped for.” (Read more about Kyna)
The Wy’East is among a number of OHSU initiatives designed to ignite interest and offer pathways into the health professions for students who lack them.
Three members of the M.D. Class of 2023 participated in the OHSU Equity Summer Research Program, an eight-week, hands-on internship with research and clinical elements.
“That summer I fell in love with the medical research I was doing at OHSU, and the amount of support I was getting from the faculty and staff on a daily basis,” said Christopher Ponce Campuzano.
Ponce Campuzano’s path to OHSU in summer 2017 was paved with the love, bravery and tenacity of his parents, who did janitorial and construction work, and the support of extended family and benefactors. The first OHSU M.D. student to have DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, status, Ponce Campuzano was especially moved by OHSU’s statement in support of DACA students, which doubled down on then-OHSU President Dr. Joe Robertson’s “All are welcome here.”
And that the institution values diversity, he said, means he won’t feel alone.
“It gives me a sense of comfort and ease,” Ponce Campuzano said, “to know I’m in a place where I can focus on myself and focus on finishing medical school in the best way I can without worrying about being judged or discriminated against like I have been before.”
School of Medicine leaders closed their remarks with their advice and aspirations for the class.
“Putting on the white coat ushers in a lifetime of public service,” said George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education in the OHSU School of Medicine. “I urge all of you to make your voices heard. Get involved in your community and take action whenever and wherever you see injustice. Only people can produce the solutions we need, and we desperately need them. Our hopes are in good hands in each of you.”