Wearing The White Coats

A summary of the importance of the White Coat Ceremony for the School of Pharmacy, the meaning behind it, and the joy of accomplishment.

Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge, Photos Courtesy of Kevianna Adams

A graduating pharmacist is given a white coat

The University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo hosted the White Coat Ceremony held by the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy on Sunday, Oct. 14 in the Performing Arts Center. Friends and families were invited to this annual prestigious ceremony, and the event went off with a bang as people excitedly filled the seats and filled the atmosphere with anticipatory clamor.

“The White Coat is obviously a garment, but the ceremony is held in many of the healthcare professions, especially medicine, pharmacy, and nursing, as you enter a professional program. So it’s kind of the transition from college into a health professional degree program,” said Carolyn Ma, Dean of the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy.

The event began with the students walking in from the back with their white coats carefully draped on their arms. This was followed by a plethora of introductions and welcomings to the incoming class, in addition to an alumni who was able to recall the joy of going through the ceremony himself, as well as the fun and hard times he experienced while completing his work in the program.

“It’s very important to mention that the keynote speaker this year was Byron Yoshino, President and CEO for Pharmacare Hawaiʻi. Keegan Sugimoto was our alumni from the class of 2011. Mayor Harry Kim also addressed the attendees of the event,” stated Dr. Ghee Tan, Director of the Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences Program of the DKICP. Mayor Harry Kim represented the state holders, as well as the community at large.

A pharmacist holds the "Oath of a Pharmacist" next to his mother

The White Coat ceremony has a deep and wide-rooted history, and every part has a symbol intertwined into the event, similar to a graduation. It starts with the speeches but quickly progresses to the main section of the momentous event, which is the oath of a Pharmacist.

Once the ceremony commenced, students were called up one-by-one from their seats; it was at this point in the ceremony that their coats were put on. Once all of the class was situated and standing proudly wearing their coats, they prepared to take the oath.

“By declaring compassionate patient care, it is preparing their mindset. If they take the oath, then they have to adhere by the oath. Dean Ma led the taking of the oath,” Tan specified. They rose their right hands and repeated after Dean Carolyn Ma.

“It marks the starting of our professional career because we’ll be wearing the white coats through all of our rotations. It’s an initiation, but they said they’re starting now because we’re starting our rotation. Before, they let students take care of patients and then they would take the ceremony after, so they just decided to do it before. A lot of schools do it in their first few weeks,” emphatically stated Caroline Boule, one of the incoming students in the class of 2022.

The event is held once a year for the first year with the incoming freshmen to the program. Although, as Boule mentioned, most schools will have their White Coat ceremonies at the beginning of the first professional year as a means to transition the students into the program, and the profession.

“We typically hold it in October because October is usually ‘pharmacy month,’ so that’s when we have a lot of our activities, like the White Coat ceremony, the health fair, and the career fair. October just seems to be a timely month. Since we start school in August, students are kind of settled in: they’ve had their first few challenges with exams and they may be feeling a little disjointed. This sort of ceremony at this time, right around the middle of the semester, just really helps to solidify that commitment,” Ma explicated.

This year was the twelfth class to be initiated, with a striking 82 incoming students. Usually, classes range from 80 to 85 students altogether. Ma continued, “Pharmacy school is different from undergraduate classes in that you go through a planned curriculum. Everybody takes the same classes every semester. You live with these people in your class forever. That’s who your colleagues will be and that’s who you sit in the same classroom with everyday for three years. As you move into your careers, that’s who you’ll be friends with, and some might even say that’s who’ll be your family. So it’s a really tight group and that’s what’s really positive; it builds those positive memories.”

The event is usually put on by the College of Pharmacy Student Affairs Division with help from the pre-pharmacy club. They work to coordinate things like decorations, lighting, and concessions for after the oath is taken.

A stage full of pharmacy students all recite the pharmacists oath

This year, the distinguished White Coat ceremony was sponsored by Walgreens, a leading corporate company in the world of community pharmacy. “I think the college is really important to the Hilo community. To have a professional school in a rural setting like this is really something we can embrace. It brings a lot of students and economics to the area, and it helps to sustain our enrollment. Because it is a professional doctorate degree, there is an element of prestige and high esteem for a level like that. I think it really takes everyone to make this program successful,” Ma explained.

In addition, Ma continued, “We need to celebrate our achievements. Having the community see it and to have families coming really helps to celebrate that success because they’ve worked hard to get to this point. It’s at least two to four years of undergraduate study with a rigorous application process and sometimes they try several times to get in, so it is quite an achievement and we want to celebrate that.”

The event was wrapped up as students began leaving the stage and heading for their loved ones, where many of them were granted with lei and candy, along with the cake and juice concessions provided. The air was thick with a sense of exuberance and achievement as the crowd began to get louder and louder. Boule said, “Today was great! It was so much fun!” By the sound of it, her classmates would agree.

Altogether, the renowned occasion is all about the pharmacist and the beginning steps of becoming a pharmacist. As the oath of the pharmacist begins, “I promise to devote myself to a lifetime of service to others through the profession of pharmacy,” so does the journey into the career of pharmacy for the incoming class of 2022.

A leid graduate poses with friends after the ceremony