White Coat Ceremony celebrates first-year learners

2021 White Coat Ceremony

The School of Dentistry celebrated 105 DDS learners, 21 Dental Hygiene learners and 7 Dental Therapy learners at their White Coat Ceremony last week, marking their official entrance into the dental profession.

First celebrated in 1989 at the University of Chicago, the White Coat Ceremony marks the moment in which each clinical learner is bestowed with their first white coat, recognizing the professionalism and patient-centered care expected of the wearer.

Dean Keith Mays congratulates a student at the 2021 White Coat Ceremony

During the ceremony, Karl Self, DDS, MBA, director of dental therapy and interim director of dental hygiene, bestowed white coats upon each dental hygiene and dental therapy student. Paul Olin, DDS, MS, interim associate dean of clinical affairs, bestowed coats upon each DDS learner.

“This ceremony is meant to recognize your entry into our profession,” explained Mercedes Porter, DDS, MA, assistant dean for academic affairs, in remarks that opened the ceremony. “This is punctuated with your commitment to professionalism and ethical practice.”

“For decades, clinically-based health professional schools have used the distribution of the white coat as a symbol and reminder of the responsibility and trust being granted to you, and the expectation of the highest degree of professionalism as you embark on this journey,” she continued.

Keith Mays, DDS, MS, PhD, dean of the School of Dentistry, called the ceremony a “wonderful rite of passage” for our newest learners. “The white coat is a standard of professionalism and caring, and an emblem of the trust that must be earned from our patients,” he explained. “When you wear the white coat, you demonstrate that you are someone that cares for those in need and seeks to make them whole through the application of science, caring and clinical skill.”

In recognition of the white coat as a symbol of ethical and professional medical practice, students from each program read their codes of ethics, written and agreed upon as a class, during the ceremony. After receiving their coat, each learner was invited to sign their class’s code of ethics, to be publicly displayed after the ceremony as an affirmation of each learner’s commitment to their patients, community, and one another.

Students celebrate at the 2021 White Coat Ceremony

“The white coat symbolizes an affirmation that your purpose will be professional and ethical, and that you can be trusted to honor the tradition of this learned profession by placing the interests of your patients above your own,” Mays explained, reflecting on this responsibility and commitment.

The gravity of the coat and its meaning was further affirmed by the recitation of the Oath for New Dentists, Oath of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and Minnesota Oath for Dental Therapists, recited by each class after they received their coats.

The ceremony concluded with a keynote from Rachel Uppgaard, DDS, clinical associate professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, in which she encouraged learners to serve their patients while also caring for themselves.

“Today you embark on the opportunity of a lifetime, to serve others through the work of your hands and through your brilliant minds,” she said. “Today you put on a white coat that symbolizes your commitment to the practice of dentistry, to your colleagues, to your community and, most importantly, to your patients.”

Reflecting on the great responsibility the coat brings with it, Uppgaard said, “the coat comes off at the end of the day, but your responsibilities to the aforementioned do not.” She encouraged these new learners to continue to grow and learn each day, saying, “that is why they call it practicing dentistry.”

“This education is the greatest gift you will receive,” she concluded. “Take advantage of it, and give back to your community in any way you can.”

We congratulate our 133 new clinical learners and welcome them to their new professions.

Select White Coat Ceremony photos can be found here. Students and families can access all photos from the White Coat Ceremony via our Google Drive folder.