White Coat Ceremony Launches UC Riverside School of Medicine

A stellar first class begins a pioneering journey

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — An admiring crowd of 700 people cheered on the inaugural class of 50 students in UC Riverside’s School of Medicine on Friday, Aug. 9. Each student slipped into the doctor’s white coat, held by a faculty member, to mark the beginning of four years of hard work.

The live string quartet, floral arrangements, beautiful programs and colorful lights are not typical for UCR’s Student Recreation Center — the home court of UCR basketball — but the campus needed its biggest room to fit the students, the families, the faculty and all the community supporters of this new kind of medical school, designed to increase the supply of primary care doctors practicing in the Inland Empire.

“I’ve been telling the students this is a once in a lifetime event, like the sighting of Haley’s comet, said Kendrick A. Davis, director of medical education for the UCR School of Medicine. “It is rare that you are in the right spot and you can take advantage of it. It is beyond a milestone. You are talking about embarking on something that hasn’t really been done, the way that we are doing it,” he said. “Every person involved in this is a pioneer, so you have to be excited about it, and be willing to put in all the work to make this successful.”

UCR faculty, staff and supporters applaud the first class.

UCR faculty, staff and supporters applaud the first class.

The mission of the UCR School of Medicine is to improve the health of the Inland Empire by producing culturally diverse primary care doctors who will stay and practice medicine in the area, which has a chronic shortage of doctors. UCR has had the first part of a medical school program for more than 30 years, but the students always finished their work at other medical schools, including UCLA. Now medical school students can stay to finish their M.D. UCR is also developing residency training programs in partnership with regional hospitals.

The effort to establish the school took a concerted community effort over many years, capped off recently with a state budget deal that included $15 million in annual funding, thanks to the successful advocacy of the Inland Empire Caucus, the Monday Morning Group and Inland Action.

“We are at the end of a long relay,” said Dr. G. Richard Olds, the founding dean of the School of Medicine. “Each time we had a roadblock, our community doubled down on their effort. I want to thank everyone for that effort.”

Five people earned honorary white coats for the heavy lifting in the last stretch of a 10-year long relay race:  State Sen. Richard Roth; Assemblymember Jose Medina; Interim Chancellor Jane Close Conoley; and two leaders from the University of California Office of the President, Dan Dooley and Patrick Lenz.

The goal is a healthier California, at a time when Obama’s Affordable Care Act is creating more opportunities to get medical insurance for the uninsured.

Olds thanked all the organizations and individuals who pulled together to create the mosaic of a medical school — financial support, political will, hospital partnerships, professional accreditation, top faculty, students and staff, all following a clear mission.

The leadership of the UCR School of Medicine. Dr. G. Richard Olds, founding dean, is at the left.

The leadership of the UCR School of Medicine. Dr. G. Richard Olds, founding dean, is at the left.

“Ultimately, our strongest supporters have always been our community, individually and collectively,” he said. He noted the Riverside Chamber of Commerce, the California Medical Association, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, the Desert Healthcare District, the Greater Riverside Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Citizens University Committee, the Vines Society, and the medical associations in Riverside and San Bernardino counties, among many others.

Friday’s ceremony served as a reminder about the role of doctors in our lives, the witness to our births and our deaths, our tragedies and our recoveries.

“We need to include the patient, as well as the families, in the decisions about their health,” said Dr. Phyllis A. Guze, the executive dean for the school and the keynote speaker at the ceremony. She told a story about her own hospitalization after an accident, and how many times she felt that the doctors were asking how she was, but not listening to her answer.

“But one of my physicians asked me what I thought, and listened,” Guze said. “He brought to me the human, personal touch, and I will be forever grateful. So I challenge you, as you start your career, to be the doctor that you want to go to, if you get sick.”

Keynote speaker Dr. Phyllis Guze, executive dean, advises students to be careful to listen.

Keynote speaker Dr. Phyllis Guze, executive dean, advises students to be careful to listen.

Janel Gracia, one of the members of the first class, said she was inspired. She said receiving her own coat “makes it feel 100 percent real.” She did her undergraduate work at UC Riverside and currently serves as a mentor in the outreach programs that build a pipeline of culturally diverse college students qualified to go to medical school. The week of orientation has convinced her that she made the right choice for medical school. “We are all becoming good friends,” she said. “In four years we will be best friends.”

Jaire Saunders, another member of the class, was surrounded by his parents and a brother who were beaming with pride as they talked about this new accomplishment in his life.

“My mom’s a nurse, so from a young age I’ve been exposed to the field of medicine. But growing up, I saw the importance of health and how it impacts disadvantaged populations. I knew that being a doctor, being a physician, would be my calling.”

Gracia, Saunders, and all the members of the first class have what it takes to launch the school on the right foot, said Davis, who has a Ph.D. in educational psychology, and got to know the students during orientation.  “I’m an evaluator, I’m the data guy for the UCR School of Medicine, for evaluation, measurement and assessment.  “I was blown away,” he said. “I think they are a stellar class.”


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