SMHS Class of 2026 Takes the First Step in Health Care Journey | GW Today

SMHS Class of 2026 Takes the First Step in Health Care Journey | GW Today

By Thomas Kohout

Family and friends filled the hallways of Lisner Auditorium to witness the Class of 2026 George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) physician program take their symbolic first step on their way to becoming doctors during the 24th annual Code of Honor and White Coat. ceremony

The event was the most attended ceremony in the school’s history, said Barbara Bass, vice president for health affairs, dean of SMHS and CEO of GW Medical Faculty Associates.

“This is really a public mark of your commitment as doctors,” he told the students in his welcoming remarks. “When you put on the white coat for the first time, that widely recognized doctor’s uniform, and as you recite this code of honor with your faculty, you are announcing that you are taking on this burden, this responsibility, and this enormous privilege of being a doctor” .

Bass advised the students that medicine can take a lot out of their lives. “It’s going to take time and energy, and you’re going to face a lot of pain in this business you’re taking on.” For all its difficulties, he added, medicine is worth it. “In return, medicine rewards you with amazing joy, knowledge, wisdom and human connections of unimaginable intensity.”

Continuing a two-decade tradition, SMHS first-year medical students receive their white coats, as well as a commemorative reflective gavel, and recite the honor code. The event is sponsored by the GW Medical Alumni Association and the White Coat Initiative, which provide financial support for white coats, supplies used during Community Service Day, and educational technology and software. This gift allows SMHS alumni to build relationships with students entering the field and welcome them into the professional community.

This year’s class of 181 students from 25 states, Washington, DC, Canada and China represented 76 universities and included 23 GW alumni and SMHS legacies. The class boasts an impressive list of accomplishments—advanced degrees and research experience—and includes AmeriCorps volunteers, Fulbright scholars, nurses, EMTs, medical scribes, hospital workers, military veterans, an attorney, and a figure skater. olympic speed The Class of 2026 is the school’s most diverse to date, with 52% women and 65% identifying as non-white.

In his remarks, Senior Associate Dean for MD Programs Richard Simons reminded the audience that the incoming class is entering their training at a time of seismic change in medicine. However, at its core, medicine is a humanistic discipline with the patient at the center.

“This ceremony is a reminder of our primary goal, which is to serve our patients,” he said.

He added: “If I could leave you with one piece of advice today it’s this: Be curious. I think it’s curiosity [that] it turns patients into people we can empathize with. It advances both the science and the art of medicine.”

This year’s speaker was fourth-year medical student Nicolas Leighton, who offered his insight and expertise to the class. A “huge fan of Marvel comics,” Leighton recalled feeling like a superhero the first time he donned the white coat.

“I remember thinking it was kind of a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ moment,” Leighton said. “But looking back, putting on the white coat for the first time was more like I was meeting a new person.”

Excited, but also intimidated, he struggled to understand who this new Nicolas Leighton was and decided to follow a script dense with medical jargon and what was considered “professional”. It wasn’t until his third year rotations, when he met his first patient, that he set it up. His patient, Mrs. M, was a kind woman in her 50s, who had just been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Every day during morning rounds, what was supposed to be a 30-second chat about how he felt somehow turned into a five-minute conversation about his life story and aspirations.

“At this point, I simply forgot about ‘medical nick.’ It was simply Nick in a white coat, being brought to this woman’s bed to provide her with all the support and comfort he could.

“My message to you today is that the white coat is not your superpower,” he said. “Each of you was chosen for your talents, experiences, and perspectives, and you’ve earned a seat here today. Challenge yourself every day to hone your medical knowledge as much as you do your radical individuality.”

The keynote address at this year’s ceremony was given by Julie E. Bauman, director of the GW Cancer Center, associate dean of cancer and professor of medicine.

“I truly see medicine as a sacred mission,” he told the students. She added, however, that listening to Dean Simons’ presentation and the recitation of his long academic resume blew her away.

“On hearing my presentation, I found it dry and without anything that would be my true polar star,” Bauman said. Despite his many achievements and leadership positions, he did not reflect the spirit of why he chose the life of a doctor.

“I set out to become the best doctor I could be, bringing together the intersection of science and humanism.”

Bauman recalled his true North Star moment, which he would turn to again and again for inspiration and motivation when the challenges of being a doctor became too much. During her first year as a medical student, a gynecologic oncologist presented a lecture on the doctor-patient relationship, describing the many aspects of this connection.

“Then we got to a question and answer, and someone in my class asked him, ‘How do you live in a profession where you have to give bad news to a patient every day?’ ” Bauman recalled. “She came out from behind the podium and said, ‘Because I love my patients.’ That was it for me. And that’s my North Star.”

After the remarks, one by one the students crossed the stage to don their white coats, sign the code of honor, and then recite the SMHS Oath, solemnly declaring their commitment to scientific integrity , ethical practice and patient service.

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