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First steps

Incoming medical students celebrate milestone during annual White Coat Ceremony


Incoming Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine students from across the country — with different backgrounds and from all walks of life — came together with family and friends to celebrate their milestone moment of being “cloaked” in their first white coat during the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony on Aug. 11.

The ceremony, held at the Greater Richmond Convention Center, was a joyous occasion for the 216 first-year medical students. Each walked across the stage in front of loved ones to be helped into their white coat by senior faculty members of the School of Medicine. The custom serves as a precursor to a student’s journey through medical school, training and beyond.

Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., VCU School of Medicine alumnus and director of the Richmond City Health District, speaks.
Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine, speaks.
Susan DiGiovanni, M.D. Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and Student Affairs, speaks.
Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., VCU School of Medicine alumnus and current director of the Richmond City Health District, speaks.
“We’ve been doing this since 1838, so we know how to make doctors."

“As you don this white coat, you’re celebrating coming into medical school, but specifically you’re celebrating joining the VCU family,” said Peter Buckley, dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “We’ve been doing this since 1838, so we know how to make doctors. You’re going to do just fine and you’re all going to make great doctors and we are here to help you.”

The keynote speaker was Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., a VCU School of Medicine alumnus and current director of the Richmond City Health District, part of the Virginia Department of Health. Avula spoke to students about his experience attending medical school and the lessons he learned along the way.

“What you will find over your next seven to 10 years of your journey here is that this profession that you have chosen will open up countless doors for you,” said Avula. “You will also find that we are all wired differently and that we were created for different things. But the beauty of medicine is that it can take you anywhere.

“I recommend that you take the time to explore and become a part of your community — this VCU School of Medicine community and the greater Richmond community,” he said. “Pursue your hobbies, spend time in public schools, become a mentor or spend time down by the river. The more you embed yourself into the community, the more it will change the way you learn this craft.”


After receiving their white coats, the students recited the Oath of Hippocrates together. Then they filed out to find family members, take pictures, and congratulate and celebrate with one another during the reception that followed.

Susie Turkson and Vera Okuns were two of those students. The friends, who met while attending separate programs over the summer at VCU, were laughing and taking selfies in their newly acquired white coats.

Turkson is hoping to one day be a traumatic brain injury researcher and chose VCU because of its M.D.-Ph.D. program. Graduates of the M.D.-Ph.D. program become physician-scientists who advance the medical field through direct patient care and innovative research.

“For me, I was searching for schools with the best research programs,” said Turkson. “VCU has really strong traumatic brain injury research, so that was a big factor for me, and I’m really excited to be attending.”


Okuns is considering family medicine and is also interested in the international medicine path and participating in mission trips.

“My family is from Nigeria and I’m interested in giving back to countries and communities that don’t have easy access to medical care,” said Okuns. “I can’t wait to start. I didn’t go to undergrad at VCU, but I visited for a program during my junior year and I just fell in love with the school."

"You know when you walk in somewhere, and you think, ‘This is where I belong?’ That’s exactly how I felt.”

Footnote: Story by Carrie Carroll, University Public Affairs. Photos by Kevin Morley, University Marketing.
Greater Richmond Convention Center, North 3rd Street, Richmond, VA, United States