Classes of 2024 and 2025, including HST MD students—don white coats—in person
Bobbie Collins | Harvard Medical School
More than 100 journeys on the path to becoming physicians or dentists began for members of the Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Dental Medicine Class of 2025 this month, with new students introducing themselves to classmates and donning their white coats for the first time.
Members of the Class of 2024, well into their second year, also received the in-person welcome they missed last year due to the pandemic in a special Quad ceremony for them dubbed "White Coat 2.0." This year’s welcome events, which kicked off Aug. 2, were the first formal in-person gatherings on the HMS campus since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
Thirty of the 164 medical students are in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST) program, with nearly half of these pursuing MD-PhD degrees.
First-year student classes were conducted with layers of public health protections, such as continued masking, and the traditional white coat ceremonies restricted attendance to invited faculty and staff.
“[This is] an especially significant occasion after what we have all been through over the past year and a half,” said HMS Dean George Q. Daley, who welcomed first-year students to campus and commended them for completing their med school applications and interviews in the midst of the pandemic.
“It’s wonderful to be outdoors and to see you live and in person and not on a computer screen,” said Robert Mayer, HMS faculty associate dean for admissions, during the deans’ welcome. “This means so much to us.”
“It really is an incredible day,” added Dean for Students Fidencio Saldaña. “We’ve been waiting since March of last year to celebrate. For faculty, it is the first public event here in many months. So, welcome!”
Many of the first-year students’ classes took place under a tent on the HMS Quad instead of in classrooms, including the deans’ welcome and the students’ first patient clinic, which is normally held in Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Other sessions were delivered online—something the class is familiar with, having already navigated the admissions process and interviews virtually.
During the deans’ welcome, HMS Dean for Medical Education Edward Hundert wandered among the students seated socially distanced under the tent, asking them what they were most excited and most anxious about.
The first student to volunteer an answer said he was most excited to start seeing patients. Another said he too was excited, but added, “I’m nervous about not seeming competent with patients.”
Hundert acknowledged that being worried about interacting with patients was a common concern, but added that patients understand that MD students only want to help them. And they are often grateful, he said, because students take the time to sit with patients and listen to their stories.
“These are the moments you realize you can really make a difference as a student,” Hundert said. “It’s the authentic nature of those communications [with patients] that are the most important thing you can do.”
Hundert’s last word of advice to the students was to just be themselves. “You can’t help but make things better,” he said.
During the week, the traditional small-group gatherings for each of the five academic societies took place in their respective learning studios. Students made introductions, sharing fun facts about themselves while getting fitted for their white coats and trying them on for size.
Each student is assigned to one of the five academic societies where academic advisors and administrative staff guide and support them through their years at HMS and HSDM. Students often form tight-knit study and social groups within their societies.
“The societies are where your large class becomes smaller,” Jennifer Potter, advisory dean of the William Bosworth Castle Society, told the students, adding that the societies are where they can meet and form relationships with med students in different stages of training.
Entering HMS student Jowan Watson of the Castle Society said he’s enjoyed the conversations he’s had with his peers and hearing “the stories of people’s lives and the treks that they’ve made to medical school.”
“It’s been exciting to meet everyone and to be in a group of people with such varied life experiences who are so passionate about making a positive contribution to the lives of others,” said entering HMS and Francis Weld Peabody Society student Benjamin Grobman.
This year’s entering class is made up of 164 medical and 35 dental students. During their first year, HMS and HSDM students learn alongside each other before entering into each school’s focused curriculum.
“[Dental students] will experience the important foundations of medicine and how oral health is tied inextricably to overall health. Likewise, medical students will learn dental medicine and the systemic implications of oral conditions and diseases,” said HSDM Dean William Giannobile in his welcoming remarks.
HMS student Will Harris said he enjoyed the Monday identity session because it would help as we “think about how we interact with patients and what we see as their identity isn’t always indicative of how they see their own identity.”
Nearly one-quarter of the medical school students are from populations underrepresented in medicine and more than one-third are Asian, Mayer said. Thirty-three individuals in the class self-identified on their HMS secondary application as LGBTQ. The class is made up of 83 women, 79 men, and two students with different identities.
Mayer said the entering medical school students come from 30 U.S. states, one U.S. territory, and seven countries. They completed their undergraduate work at 68 schools, with 21 percent coming directly to medical school after earning their undergraduate degrees, and with the majority taking one or more years off in between. Nine students are entering with doctoral degrees, and 28 have master’s degrees.
The 24 women and 11 men in the dental class come from 18 U.S. states and 11 countries. More than 30 percent are from populations underrepresented in medicine, and 37 percent are Asian. They come from 29 institutions, and nearly two-thirds are entering directly from undergraduate programs, according to the dental school.
The path ahead
“I am amazed by the accomplishments that you have already achieved at this early stage of your careers, the diversity of your backgrounds, and the people you have already impacted along your journey so far,” said Giannobile.
“We are fortunate that you have decided to bring your many talents, your diverse backgrounds and experiences, your dedication and passion for helping others here—and that you have entrusted us with helping you realize your enormous potential,” said Daley.
“Know that we do not take this responsibility lightly. We will do everything in our power to nurture and support all of the fine qualities that you bring to our community,” he added.
* Originally published by Harvard Medical School here.