On May 24, 2019, a record 48 members of the Class of 2021 were honored with the formal presentation of their white coat, symbolic of receiving clinical privileges. Next to graduation, this is the most significant event in the optometric education of these future doctors, a fact not lost on family and loved ones in attendance for this beautiful ceremony.
Dean Larry Davis welcomed the students and guests to the Millennium Student Center. The students selected Assistant Clinical Professor Dr. Sarah Sweeney-Dohrman to provide encouraging words. For Dr. Sweeney-Dohrman, this is especially meaningful as she has just recently joined the faculty. This honor is representative of the excellence she has exhibited in teaching in the pre-clinic course track. Dr. Sweeney-Dohrman was very appreciative of being provided with this opportunity. She offered a brief history of the white coat in medical tradition and then focused on the positive change that results once you have the privilege of wearing it as she relates: “When you put on your white coat, change can happen. You will be seeing real-life patients for the first time while wearing this white coat. These real-life patients will be looking to you for help, and insight, and answers. When you put on your white coat, you get to change into the kind of doctor your patient needs you to be. To one patient, that may mean helping him understand his diabetes better. To another, that may mean finding a prescription to help her enjoy rereading the paper or seeing pictures of her grandchildren on her phone. For some patients, it may mean just listening to them when they talk about the loss of their spouse or their new grandbaby who was born too soon — or hearing about the struggle they’ve had to visit every specialty inside and outside the profession before finally knowing what was causing their itchy eyes headaches, failing grades, or double vision. Or celebrating with them when you were able to restore the vision they thought was otherwise lost until they came to see you. When you put on your white coat, you will not only change into someone capable of helping others but also can have the capacity to change their lives through improving their vision. And over time, after successes and failures and trials and errors, your patients may change you. They may change the way you view those who go through life with severely low vision, life with debilitating dry eye, living with the lack of independence and mobility. And this change will help make you a more competent, compassionate provider if you let it.”
Most importantly, Dr. Sweeney-Dohrman emphasized to be appreciative of those who want them to succeed: “Be thankful for those who are supporting you throughout this journey. Be thankful for those who are guiding you and are tough on you because they know you can be better.”
Of course, the featured event was the presentation of the white coat to each honoree. Drs. Erin Brooks and Sweeney-Dohrman assisted with this ceremony in which Assistant Dean of Student Services and Alumni Affairs, Dr. Ed Bennett, introduced each student as well as their accomplishments in their two-year tenure at UMSL. He also provided an overview of the many abilities and positive qualities of the Class of 2021. Bennett noted that they succeeded as the result of an enormous amount of work and practice, the support of their classmates, the assistance of a very dedicated faculty, and the mentorship provided by the Class of 2020. He complimented the class for another remarkable accomplishment: none of the 48 members of the class were on academic probation, making them all eligible to receive clinical privileges. And he had valuable advice for the final two years of their optometric education.
“I’m so excited about what you have to look forward to in the next two years; my advice is to have your eyes wide open during the forthcoming classes. Is there an area that you especially enjoy and might turn into your passion? If so, pursue it. You have a dedicated, passionate faculty – the best in our history – who would like nothing more than to help you achieve your dreams. Use them. And I will guarantee you the next few years will go much faster than the last 18 months and you will love clinic; you will love seeing patients. That’s where you truly evolve from a studier to a learner to a doctor. You will take what you saw that day, go home, read about it, and learn. It’s amazing how much better you can be when you enjoy what you are doing, and you put forth the extra effort; our faculty will notice, and they might be the people writing letters for you tomorrow. Based on your first two years at the College, it’s evident that you have a promising future in the profession, notably with your outstanding interpersonal communication skills, your ability to work together and, of course, as you showed on the CPE exam, your clinical ability – and we feel you will bring much positive recognition to the College of Optometry, and you will make a difference in our profession.”
The ceremony concluded with a presentation from the Class of 2021 of an extraordinary gift to Dr. Bennett in recognition of his upcoming retirement: a mounted Cardinals jersey with the number “21” signed by every member of the class. Fourth-year student Madison Moss (’20), Class Representative for the Class of 2020 concluded the program with the honor of providing the students’ comments. She felt this was a privilege as a result of her close association with this class. “I have been so fortunate to develop several strong friendships in this class, and every one of you means so much to me. So basically, I am BEAMING with pride and joy today as I look at you friends sitting there, about to begin this exciting, fun, sometimes weird, frequently rewarding, new experience of caring for real-life patients in the clinic.” Madison had several tips for the Class of 2021, which included the following:
1) “You don’t know everything yet, and that is OKAY! You’re going to learn so much over the next couple years – more than you can even imagine right now. Every preceptor is aware of this, and I promise you they will show you the patience and compassion you need right now if you put in your absolute best effort.”
2) “Lean on your classmates! Now is the time to learn through your experiences, and share your triumphs and struggles. These struggles and triumphs are how you grow – as a clinician and a person.”
3) “Be the student who volunteers for the ‘hard’ patients. You are capable of so much more than you realize. Plus, your preceptors will have your back; they’re on your team, and you can learn so much from them in situations like these.”
4) “Make notes of what you’re learning!! Even if you aren’t necessarily a journal person, I highly recommend keeping notes about at least one new thing you learn each day in the clinic.”
Her final words were especially encouraging: “I think I speak for every person in this room and then some when I say that we are so very proud of you. This class has worked so hard, practiced so diligently, and grown so much over the past couple years. You are well-prepared for this next step, and frankly, you’re going to crush it.”