PCOM Georgia PA and Physical Therapy Students Don White Coats

Staff Report

Monday, August 30th, 2021

The origin of healthcare professionals wearing white coats may be a little murky with accounts recording that the attire was a marketing ploy to a notion of cleanliness and purity to an upgrade from black coats, which symbolized formal and serious matters.

But one thing is clear. Sixty-eight physician assistant and physical therapy students in the PCOM Georgia Class of 2023 received their white coats on August 19, 2021, in separate ceremonies held at the Gas South Convention Center in Duluth, Georgia. 

Bryan Ginn, PCOM Georgia Chief Campus Officer, brought greetings from the Board of Trustees, PCOM President Jay S. Feldstein, DO ’81, and Provost Kenneth Veit, DO ‘76, MBA, FACOFP. He recounted his experience as a hospital patient due to COVID-19 and told the students that, based on his personal experience, “I am a fan of your profession and am delighted to be here to help celebrate this milestone with you today.”

The Master of Science in Health Sciences/Physician Assistant Studies ceremony took place at 11 a.m. and was attended by 29 first-year physician assistant students, their family members, and PCOM Georgia faculty and staff members. The ceremony featured Haley Queen, MS, PA-C, the current president of the Georgia Association of Physician Assistants, as the guest speaker. 

She called the power of the white coat “sacred.”

“It is only given to those who earn it,” she said. “When you walk into a patient’s room with a white coat on, you have the power to instill trust, wisdom and healing upon the patient.”

Queen noted that the length of the white coat is symbolic as students wear short white coats, while graduates or practicing PA’s wear long white coats. 

“You will suffer while wearing this coat,” she said, “but what an honor it is to suffer alongside your patients and their families during some of the hardest times of their lives. You, in your white coat, are an offering of hope. People will always want to cling to hope.”

Courage, endurance, humility and kindness are qualities that Laura Levy, DHSc, PA-C, chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, suggested students keep at the ready. “They are perhaps the heaviest, but most important items to keep in your pockets,” she said.

Lawrenceville resident and University of Georgia graduate Emma Pontalti (MS/PA ’23) said, just prior to the ceremony, “I’m really excited. My family is here. There’s been a lot of work going into this so it’s going to be a great day.”

Thirty-nine second year Doctor of Physical Therapy students received their white coats at a 2 p.m. ceremony. Kathleen Geist, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, an associate professor and director of the orthopedic physical therapy residency program at Emory University, delivered the keynote address.

She noted that the ceremony “is a culmination of celebrating your accomplishments and signifies your transition into a profession in which you will be called to transform the lives of others and improve quality of life through movement.”

She said, “What I have come to realize is the more you practice, you realize how much more there is to learn and that you cannot know it all. Seize the opportunity to learn from your patients, your clinical instructors and from those around you.”

Ruth M. Maher, PT, PhD, DPT, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, addressed the students

She said the ceremony, which is scheduled after completion of the first didactic year and the first clinical experience “allows us to welcome the students to the profession, mark the transformation occurring in their lives, and celebrate their accomplishments during the program.”

She noted that the students’ coats have two patches. The first one symbolizes the osteopathic tradition, which emphasizes a whole-person approach to patient management, a commitment to the advancement of knowledge and intellectual growth, and engagement in the well-being of the community. The center of the patch is embroidered with two words “Mens et Manus” which “remind us that as professionals, we should use our minds and our hands.”

The second patch represents the physical therapy program, she said, and is built around the flame logo. “The flame reminds us that the desire to grow professionally, seek the well-being of individuals and the community, and see our patients/clients as “whole beings” is an eternal flame that should never be extinguished.”

Lilburn native and Parkview High School graduate Marie Priest Bush (DPT ’23), who earned a degree from Illinois State University while participating in the gymnastics program, said the ceremony means a lot to her. “It’s a rewarding process to go through as a student and to be acknowledged that we’re doing well and that we’ve made it thus far.”

All attendees were required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Although keynote speaker Haley Queen said she didn’t want to overshadow the ceremony by speaking about the pandemic, she acknowledged the toll it has taken.  She advised the students, “Dig deep during these tough times and find a way to learn, grow and feel joy despite this virus and the hardships it brings.”