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School Hosts White Coat Ceremony for First- and Second-Year PharmD Students

Combined event welcomes new and returning students into the pharmacy profession

By Becky Ceraul
October 7, 2021

For the first time in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s history of hosting white coat ceremonies for its Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students, two entire classes received their coats on Oct. 1. First-year PharmD students in the Class of 2025 and second-year students in the Class of 2024 – who missed their ceremony in Fall 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic – walked across the stage in UMB’s Leadership Hall to receive their white coats – a symbol of the health care professions and a decades-old rite of passage for pharmacy students across the country.

“As you sit here now, I’m sure it’s hard to envision that in a few short years, you will walk across another stage to receive your Doctor of Pharmacy degree,” said Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FAAPS, FCP, dean and professor of the School of Pharmacy in her remarks. “That degree will allow you to be part of one of the most rewarding careers in health care – pharmacy.

Eddington reminded the students and those watching online about the important role that pharmacists play as an integral – and often the most accessible – member of a patient’s health care team. “As a medication expert, a pharmacist provides valuable information on pharmacotherapy, drug-drug interactions, and potentially dangerous side-effects,” she said. “Pharmacists are directly involved in patient care through chronic disease management, where they sit down with their patients to educate them about their disease, help them understand their medications, and ensure adherence to their therapy. And by administering life-saving immunizations, as demonstrated by their heroic efforts delivering COVID-19 vaccines this year.”

With pandemic restrictions still in place, nearly 2,000 of the students’ families and friends watched via a live stream and offered congratulations, love, and praise in the broadcast’s chat box.

Delivering keynote remarks at this year’s joint ceremony was Soumi Saha, PharmD ’07, JD, vice president of advocacy at Premier Inc., one of the nation’s largest group purchasing organizations uniting more than 4,400 U.S. hospitals and 225,000 non-acute providers, where she develops and implements Premier’s supply chain advocacy strategy to lead the transformation to high-quality, cost-effective health care.

As she took the stage, Saha – a third generation pharmacist and School of Pharmacy alumnus – remembered her own white coat ceremony. “It was in this exact room 18 years ago!”

Saha reflected on her own pharmacy school journey and career, remarking, “Despite what we were taught in geography class, one thing I’ve learned in life and in my career is that the shortest distance from point A to point B is never a straight line.”

She challenged the students to be curious, embrace the bumps along the way, network, respect their personal boundaries, and have fun.

“Pharmacy is one degree that allows you to do so much and opens so many doors for you,” she said. “But don’t lose sight of who you are as part of this journey. It is so important to respect you and do the things that still bring you joy. When you are joyful, you bring joy to others and to your work.”

“Pharmacy school is a community,” Saha concluded. “Look to your right and look to your left. Your goal is to make sure those people sitting next to you are there with you on graduation day.”

Following Saha’s remarks, members of the Class of 2024 were called to the stage by their faculty advisor, Sandeep Devabhakthuni, PharmD, associate professor of pharmacy practice and science, and by SGA President Sean Kim, a third-year student pharmacist. School of Pharmacy faculty members coated the students, who then received a congratulatory elbow bump from Dean Eddington.

The Class of 2025 was called to the stage by Kim and their faculty advisor, Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA, PhD, associate professor of pharmaceutical health services research.

“I’ve wanted to be a pharmacist for several years,” said Lotanna Ezeofor, president of the Class of 2025. “I’m very excited to learn about the profession and to interact with the faculty. I’ve had a great time in my first month of pharmacy school. We are all a family here. We are working hard together.”

Emma Wehrman, president of the Class of 2024, reflected on the long wait for the white coat ceremony. “As current second year students, we started pharmacy school in the middle of the pandemic when we were all virtual,” she said. “To be able to finally receive our white coats is so exciting. The coat symbolizes professionalism and makes me feel that I am doing good in the world. A patient will see me in a white coat and know that they can ask me any question and I will have the answer for them.”

In her concluding remarks, Eddington said, “This coat represents your past and current leadership endeavors and achievements, and your commitment to provide the best care to your future patients. Wear it with pride and remember your responsibility to provide honest and accurate information to those in your care.”

The ceremony concluded with the recitation of the Pledge Professionalism, led by Cherokee Layson-Wolf, PharmD, associate dean of student affairs, and Cynthia Boyle, PharmD, professor of pharmacy practice and science, followed by class pictures on the steps of Pharmacy Hall.

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