ROCKFORD — First-year medical students at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford donned white coats on Friday, symbolizing a new chapter in the pursuit of their dream of becoming doctors.
What was billed as White Coat Ceremony and Family Day at the college served as a welcome for 55 new students and their loved ones.
“With the white coat comes tremendous responsibility,” College of Medicine Regional Dean Dr. Alex Stagnaro-Green said. “It symbolizes a group of individuals who dedicate their lives to the care of others. When you walk into a hospital room or a patient room and you wear that white coat, the patients will have certain expectations and certain hopes and a whole lot of trust.”
First-year medical student Eric Stevens of Galesburg said he decided to become a doctor after suffering broken ribs and a lacerated spleen during an ATV accident while in high school.
Stevens spent 11 days in intensive care.
“When I finally regained the ability to walk during that hospital stay, I would actually make the rounds at night looking into other patient rooms and I would see kids who were just far worse off than myself,” Stevens said. “I got to see health care providers talking to these kids and their families, and the way they were able to help them, it really shaped my future.”
The pursuit of a medical degree is all about family tradition for first-year student Katrina Soyangco, a University of Michigan graduate from East Galesburg.
Soyangco’s father is a pulmonologist. She is pondering a career in internal medicine.
“I come from a small town,” Soyangco said. “My dad practices in a small town and that’s where I am comfortable and where I would want to serve some day, rural Illinois.”
Harlem High School graduate Alec Sikarin earned his bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology at Illinois State University. Sikarin, 24, is considering a career in orthopedics.
“I’ve always been interested in science,” he said. “Wanting to work in a career where I can help people and work with people from different backgrounds on a daily basis really motivated me to pursue a career in medicine.”
The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Dr. Kathy Tynus, a Chicago internist who earned her medical degree from the College of Medicine at Rockford in 1993.
Tynus, a past president of the Chicago Medical Society, encouraged the new medical students to be lifelong learners.
“Medical knowledge changes rapidly and you cannot rest on your laurels just because you passed an exam,” Tynus said. “What we learn today may no longer be valid tomorrow.”
Tynus also emphasized the need to be patient advocates.
“Your patients are at their most vulnerable when they are in your care,” she said. “They are sick and weak and they lack knowledge of the health care system. They need your voice.”
Ken DeCoster: 815-987-1391; firstname.lastname@example.org; @DeCosterKen