University of Charleston medical students honored

For those in medical professions, receiving a white coat is a major event, a ceremonial right of passage one must go through after completing classroom studies and before entering the field.

The inaugural class of the University of Charleston’s Physician Assistant Program took one step closer to graduation Wednesday, as its 28 students were cloaked in white by their professors and mentors.

But, the white coat ceremony has significance beyond finishing preliminary coursework. It’s about receiving the mantle of the medical profession and gaining the respect of peers.

The purpose of receiving a white coat is ceremonial and requires the coat to be personally placed on the student’s shoulders — something that signifies trust and confidence in the individual.

After receiving their coat, UC’s physician assistant students will move on to clinical rotations in pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, psychiatry, hospitals, primary care and family, internal and emergency medicine.

UC’s physician assistant program is a 28-month masters program that started in January 2013. It currently has two classes with another expected to begin in 2015.

UC is one of the few schools in West Virginia to have such a program, which has attracted students from “all walks of life across the country,” said Lori Thornton, administrative assistant for the program.

Students must have a bachelor’s degree before entering, but UC offers a fast track, 5-year program for undergraduate students enrolled in the school.

Carrie Strollings, UC spokeswoman, said the school is proud to have a program that supports students beyond classroom learning and gives them real world preparation when they come out of school.

The ceremony was made possible by a grant from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, which created the white coat ceremony in 1993 at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Once completing clinical rotations in 2015, the inaugural class will officially complete the program and graduate.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at or 304-348-4886. Follow him at

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