One hundred and six Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) students and 18 Dental Hygiene (DH) students, accompanied by family, friends, faculty and staff, celebrated their transition to clinical care at the annual White Coat Ceremony on Feb. 24, 2023.

Celebrating D.D.S. Class of 2025 and DH Class of 2024, this year’s White Coat Ceremony took place at Richmond’s Altria Theater. 

Each year, second-year D.D.S. and third-year DH students symbolically celebrate their entry into the dental profession in a White Coat Ceremony. The celebration signifies that each student is progressing in their professional education to begin caring for actual patients, completing the transition from preclinical studies to clinical care.

The White Coat Ceremony holds origins dating back to 1989, with the first ceremony in 1993. The ceremonies were initially only for medical students, but other health professions, including dentistry, have since adopted the symbolic ceremony. The 2023 White Coat Ceremony was the 24th in the history of VCU School of Dentistry. 

While the white coat may seem like a simple garment to some, it carries a significant meaning to the dental students who are committing to a new set of responsibilities as health care providers. 

Alexus Harris celebrates after receiving her white coat at the 2023 White Coat Ceremony at the Altria Theater.

“This ceremony is symbolic within the healthcare profession because the white coat is universally recognized as the attire worn by practitioners in the healing professions,” VCU School of Dentistry Dean Lyndon Cooper, D.D.S., Ph.D. told students during Friday’s ceremony. “By donning the coat, we accept the responsibilities that come with it. Those responsibilities include the ability to make ethical clinical decisions, which means putting a patient’s needs above our own as practitioners and to act as a professional in all endeavors and to contribute to the profession throughout membership and advocacy.”

The ceremony included remarks by Toni Roucka, D.D.S., associate dean for academic affairs at Marquette University School of Dentistry and nationally recognized speaker on dental ethics.

“Students, this is a proud moment for you and you should soak it up. Surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, it is a time to celebrate your achievements and also reflect on the future and what it may hold for you as you begin your transition to clinical care,” said Roucka. “You have made it so far already in your lives and dental education, but just think about all of your potential still unrealized in your profession. You will have opportunities afforded to you that most people could never dream of.”

For each student who walks across the stage, the White Coat Ceremony is the culmination of years of hard work and the beginning of a new exciting chapter in their lives.

“Earning my white coat represents all of the hours that have been dedicated throughout my journey to being a dentist in order to treat patients and transform lives,” said second-year dental student Jillian Butler. “It serves as both a symbol and a reminder of the true purpose of being a dentist, which is to help others. I am so excited to begin my transition from the classroom to the clinic.”   

Second-year dental student Jillian Butler receives her white coat on stage from Awab Abdulmajeed, D.D.S., M.S., director of the International Dentist Program.

From a young age, Butler dreamed that she would be able to help people using her hands as a dentist.

“I have always been fascinated by teeth and knew that I was destined for dentistry when I was a first grader who absolutely loved her braces and going to the dentist. Taking this next step towards accomplishing my goal makes my dream into a reality,” she added. 

For Wendy Yu, a second-year dental student and daughter of two dentists, the milestone signifies the realization of her childhood dream to follow in her parents footsteps. 

“It always seemed like a natural progression for me to take an interest in dentistry, but as I continue to explore for myself, what continues to inspire me is my dedication to service and policy, especially through organizations like the American Student Dental Association and the Virginia Dental Association,” said Yu. “As I continue to move forward, I am also realizing how important it is to be an educated provider and an advocate. I am excited to begin caring for patients and eager to keep learning about the issues affecting all of us.”

Wendy Yu and her mom celebrate following the conclusion of the VCU School of Dentistry White Coat Ceremony on February 24, 2023.

This year’s white coat class is made up of a total of 124 students, 69 women, 55 men, from 10 different states. The group of students also represent 12 foreign countries including China, France, Kuwait, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Thailand. The highly distinguished group also speak 21 different languages other than English. 

First up, dental hygiene students were cloaked in their white coats by Kimberly Lintag-Nguyen, M.S.D.H., R.D.H., assistant professor in the DH program, and Heather Tuthill, M.P.H., B.S.D.H., R.D.H, assistant professor in the DH program. Following their coating, each student signed a professional Code of Conduct before returning to their seats and reciting their Dental Hygiene Oath. 

Next up, D.D.S. Class of 2025 took the stage. The students were cloaked in their white coats by  Harmeet Chiang, B.D.S., D.D.S., M.S., FAGD, General Practice Division Chief; Awab Abdulmajeed, D.D.S., M.S., director of the International Dentist Program; Mary Pettiette, D.D.S., associate dean for admissions; and Frederica Mackert, D.D.S., M.H.A., assistant professor in the Department of General Practice.

Students then signed the Professional Code of Conduct before returning to their seats, where they recited the Dentist’s Pledge. 

Doctor of Dental Surgery students recite the Dentist’s Pledge at the 2023 White Coat ceremony.

Dentistry is a profession of life-long learning. For these dental and dental hygiene students, their opportunity for hands-on learning in the clinic has finally arrived.

“While D1 and D2 years are critical before heading into clinic as a provider, I cannot wait to talk to patients and see the impact of my care on a human being rather than a manikin,” said Butler. “I am looking forward to learning more from my classmates and the attending faculty. I have benefited so much from learning from others so far in dental school, and know that this will continue in my clinical education.”

View White Coat photos here.

Watch the video below to view the entire White Coat Ceremony.

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