In a packed auditorium of enthusiastic onlookers, 432 students at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth took a pivotal step toward their careers in health care.

HSC’s annual White Coat Ceremony, held this year on Friday, Aug. 19, represented a rite of passage for the university’s patient-facing students. In addition to receiving a personalized embroidered white coat, each first-year student from HSC’s Physician Assistant Program, Physical Therapy Program, School of Pharmacy and Texas School of Osteopathic Medicine took an oath to uphold their profession’s respective ethics and standards, as family and friends cheered them across the Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium stage.

The white coat represents a student’s transition into the health care field. With a grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation of New York, HSC began the celebration of a White Coat Ceremony in August 1996. The White Coat Ceremony symbolizes a psychological contract for professionalism and empathy. The event emphasizes the importance of the foundational mission of the institution: education, research, patient care and service.

Dr. Charles Taylor, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, opened the proceedings by welcoming the students and articulating the importance of the white coat.

“The White Coat Ceremony is a special event signifying the beginning of your journey to becoming health professionals,” he said. “The white coat symbolizes a standard of professionalism and caring. It symbolizes trust that occurs between a health care provider and patient.

“At the Health Science Center, you will become a valued member of health care professionals driven to improve the human condition through our passion for innovation and teamwork,” he continued. “Our value promise to you is transformation — through an innovative, interprofessional education immersed in a caring, community-focused environment, you will emerge as competent, emotionally intelligent, team-ready, communication-savvy leaders.”

During the ceremony, the Mary E. Luibel Distinguished Service Award was given to JPS Health Networks’ CEO, Dr. Karen Duncan. The award is given annually to people in the health care profession who show an exceptional personal commitment and long-standing dedication to the advancement of the medical profession. The award was named after the wife of TCOM co-founder and chairman, Dr. George J. Luibel.

A current student from each of HSC’s schools represented at the ceremony gave a speech encouraging the first-year students and offering advice. Tiara Gipson, a Doctor of Pharmacy candidate slated to graduate next year, became emotional as she recalled how supportive her School of Pharmacy colleagues were as she dealt with myriad challenges.

“A month into the fall semester, my dad passed away,” she said. “It was sudden, unexpected and rocked me to the core. I had lost my biggest fan. I didn’t feel like I had the strength to continue day to day, let alone make it to graduation.

“Not only did my family and friends outside of school step up to support me, but my pharmacy family was there as well,” she continued. “I have so much gratitude for this program and encourage all of you to find your people. You will need them.”

Dr. Melissa Lewis, president of the faculty senate, was the grand marshal of the ceremony. UNT alumna Erica Simmons sang a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Nearly 30 faculty members acted as on-stage “coaters.”

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