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Aug. 30, 2016

Future physicians begin medical school with White Coat Ceremony and Afternoon of Community Service

First-year Michigan State University College of Human Medicine students and their families gathered at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids for the annual White Coat and Matriculation Ceremony, days after participating in the Afternoon of Community Service.

As they donned their white coats for the first time, the 177 incoming medical students celebrated the symbolic beginning of their four-year journey into the medical profession. Interim Dean Aron Sousa, faculty and college alumni welcomed the Class of 2020. “The white coat is a marker for one of the most extraordinary times in your life,” Sousa said. “It is a wonderful and noble profession.”

Prior to the White Coat Ceremony, the incoming students were outfitted with work gloves, paint brushes, gardening tools and more, as they participated in the Afternoon of Community Service, another tradition for the first week of medical school.

The first-year medical students ventured to food pantries, medical clinics, nursing homes and other nonprofit organizations in Grand Rapids and East Lansing on Aug. 24 to sort donations, prepare meals, and help with outdoor maintenance and other projects.

So what does sorting school supplies, pulling weeds and painting deck railings have to do with learning to be a doctor?

“Oh my gosh, everything, absolutely everything,” said Jana Simmons, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. “There’s way more to medicine than a surgical suite. Doctors are at their hearts servants. They have a heart to see people’s lives improved.”

The annual event during orientation is intended to instill a commitment to help others. Most of the students, if not all, already share that dedication. In considering prospective students for admission, the college places considerable weight on the amount of time each student has already spent in community service.

Even before enrolling in medical school, Jessica Montgomery handed out groceries at food banks, helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity and spent alternative spring breaks volunteering in the Dominican Republic.

Kasim Fassia said he not only didn’t mind sorting school supplies during the Afternoon of Community Service; he welcomed the opportunity at United Way. “Doing more than what’s expected of you is an important component of medicine,” he said.

A few miles away, at Ronald McDonald House, Josh Boulter and Leora Aquino were spending the afternoon brushing rust off mental posts and painting them.“

As a school founded on the community, it shows that we care about the community,” Boulter said. The students performed all the tasks asked of them at 18 nonprofit organizations in the Grand Rapids and Lansing areas. Over their four years of schooling, the students are expected to volunteer 40 hours to such organizations. Students from both campuses wore matching MSU t-shirts with a quote from Helen Keller on the back: “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

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