a woman in a blue mask, white coat and white head scarf holding up her right hand
Features & Articles

School of Medicine welcomes newest class

  • Health and Wellness
  • School of Medicine

On Sunday, Aug. 8, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine welcomed the Class of 2025 during the 27th Annual White Coat Ceremony.

The ceremony marks the entry of the next generation of first-year students into the medical program.

For incoming student Young Jun, this year’s ceremony, held at Carnegie Music Hall, represented more than just entry into a career — it ultimately symbolized an “inheritance” of the future of the entire field.

“The White Coat Ceremony reenergized my purpose, direction and passion for medicine,” Jun said.

Fellow first-year medical student Mikayla Bisignani said: “The ceremony made me realize that accepting a seat in the Class of 2025 means accepting a seat within a much bigger community, where the whole entity’s goals are far beyond what could be accomplished as individuals.”

This year, the ceremony featured special performances from members of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Opera. Attendees also watched a welcome video from Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and heard live remarks from School of Medicine leadership.

Kurt Weiss (MED ’08), Pitt associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, was the ceremony’s keynote speaker. Weiss shared his story of how his parents were told to “prepare for his demise” during his struggle with osteosarcoma as an adolescent; he’s been cancer-free since December 1990 and now studies and treats the same cancer that upended his life.

The School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony was made possible by UPMC, Pitt’s Medical Alumni Association and support from Freddie Fu, Pitt professor and chair of orthopaedic surgery, and his wife, Hilda Fu. Watch the entire event here: 

a group of people wearing white coats and masks in an auditorium

An oath of their own

For nearly three decades, matriculating students have publicly declared their commitment to integrity and ethical behavior by reciting the Hippocratic Oath during the ceremony. The School of Medicine created another tradition last summer, inviting incoming first-year med students to write their own class oath of professionalism to reflect the ever-changing climate of health care.

“We saw it as something we needed to do so the students understood the responsibility they were taking on during a pandemic,” said Chenits Pettigrew, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the School of Medicine.

Each class contextualized their oath to reflect how they see their role in society.

The Class of 2025 took their oath on Friday, Aug. 13, under the Schenley Plaza tent. To write it, the 125 incoming students met over video conference and broke up into 13 groups, each named after a Pittsburgh bridge. (With 446 bridges, there were plenty of names to choose from.)

Once in their groups, the students discussed a case study they were sent and were asked to consider questions such as, What does being a physician mean to you? What motivates you to be the best you can be? Is it ever OK for a physician to care for their family members and friends?

“Our primary objective is to get them to do some critical thinking about what they were getting ready to embark on,” Pettigrew said.

Each group chose a writer to represent them on the writing committee. Mikayla Bisignani, a 21-year-old Greensburg native who graduated from Johns Hopkins University, was chosen to write for the Homestead Grays Bridge group. Bisignani said she is proud of the oath’s final draft.

“We wanted it to have some pieces that were timeless, but we also wanted it to be uniquely relevant to our class,” she said.

Writing the oath was part of a weeklong orientation for the incoming students.

“As we met with our bridge groups again, to get feedback on that first draft, we also started incorporating more of the ideals that we were learning about as the week went on,” said Bisignani.

Along with COVID-19, Bisignani said that mentioning the importance of mental health was a priority for the class. “We really wanted to highlight what’s relevant to being a physician in today’s medical landscape,” she said.

It ends with a promise to future patients: “If you have ever felt excluded, ostracized or overlooked, know that I see you and that I am committing today to work with you towards a better future. Your voice and feedback will guide the fulfillment of the promises I have made. Thank you for the honor of entrusting me with your care.”

As a group, Pettigrew found the Class of 2025 to be “committed and insightful.”

Ann Thompson, vice dean of the School of Medicine, said she couldn’t have imagined being able to take part in such an event when she entered medical school in 1970.

“The things our students are talking about today were barely part of the national conversation then,” she said.

Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, called the oath-writing exercise “a transformative tradition” in which “Pitt Med is really leading the country.”

“This is something that’s going to stick with them for the rest of their careers,” he added.

It also seems to have created a bond among new classmates, according to Purva Rumde, an incoming student from Boston. “I feel just really enthusiastic,” she said.

Marrissa Washington, a first-year student from North Carolina, said the widespread participation from class members, school administration and Medical Alumni Association staff made her feel especially welcome to a new city.

“I feel community and unity here,” she said.

— Sierra Smith, Gavin Jenkins and Michele Baum


Other upcoming White Coat Ceremonies

School of Dental Medicine White Coat Ceremony

Friday, Aug. 27, from 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Alumni Hall, 7th Floor Auditorium

School of Nursing White Coat Ceremony

Sunday, Aug. 29, 10 a.m.
Carnegie Music Hall

School of Pharmacy White Coat Ceremony

January 2022
Location to be announced