IOWA CITY — Students embarking on what will be a yearslong journey through the University of Iowa’s medical school Friday donned more than the white coats that have become customary in doctor’s offices around the world.
In pulling their arms through starched, unsullied sleeves on a Hancher Auditorium stage before friends and family, the new UI doctors-in-training who participated in the annual white coat ceremony put on the promise to pursue professionalism, proficiency, and precision in their medical quests.
“A healer’s uniform should imply a professional interest and interaction,” Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education in the Carver College of Medicine Chris Cooper told the incoming students. “It must convey to even the most anxious patient or physician a seriousness of purpose and hope to provide reassurance and confidence that medical concerns will be dealt with competently and conscientiously.”
The 2019 entering class in the UI Carver College of Medicine has 152 students — as it has for years, according to UI Health Care spokesman Tom Moore. They were chosen from 3,878 applicants, including over 3,500 from outside Iowa.
The 152 admitted include 62 students from Board of Regents institutions — with 47 coming from the UI, 13 from Iowa State University, and 2 from the University of Northern Iowa.
The total includes 47 students who identify as a minority or with an ethnicity that is underrepresented in medicine — marking a slight uptick from last year’s 40.
“Students,” Cooper addressed them before each was called individually to the stage, “the white coat symbolizes your transformation to becoming a physician. It is a cloak of compassion and dedication toward your fellow humans.”
‘I saw a need for more health care’
That human touch is precisely why Hayley Steffen, 22, of North Liberty, became interested in medicine — now pursuing a degree in obstetrics and gynecology.
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As an undergraduate at Luther College majoring in dance and biology, Steffen spent a month of her education in Tanzania, where she encountered medical insufficiencies compelling her to help.
“I saw a need for more health care, especially in terms of women’s health and support” in the East African nation, she said. “So I really want to get back there and help, once I have more capabilities and the education to do so.”
Although Steffen’s energy in the next few years will be focused on the high demands of her medical education, she hopes eventually to use her dance background in her service to patients.
“I’m hoping to incorporate it, and help mothers calm down and get their bodies moving when they’re in their time of being pregnant, before they give birth” she said. “And even after birth, I think it’s a great way to heal the body, on top of the curing that comes from medicine.”
‘Hard work and mental toughness’
When Ryan Ward, now 26, came to the UI from the suburbs of Chicago in 2012 to play football for the Hawkeyes, he planned to become a strength coach — and embarked on the exercise science track in pursuit of a major in health and human physiology.
But required courses in anatomy and physiology, among others, piqued his interest in medicine, and he jumped from the performance side of human biology to the clinical side. An internship in a pulmonary rehabilitation clinic cemented his interest in health care and serving patients.
So did his time on the football field, which Ward said provided a solid foundation for the long an arduous journey to a medical degree.
“The program Coach (Kirk) Ferentz runs really instills hard work and mental toughness,” Ward said. “There are other roads out there that are shorter and a little bit less intense. But I know that, working with all the coaches and playing football at Iowa, I’m ready for any long and difficult journey that will ultimately be rewarding.”
Ward was joined for Friday’s ceremony by his wife, her parents, and his mom. His dad couldn’t come because, “ironically enough,” Ward said, his older brother on the same day was participating in his white coat ceremony to start medical school at Washington University in St. Louis.
‘We’re told to keep our options open’’
In 2017, Becky Peoples, of Seattle, was pursuing a human biology degree at Stanford University — working as an athletic trainer for the football team that a year earlier had throttled the Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl. At that time, Peoples had little line of sight to her future in black and gold.
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“I had no idea where I wanted to go until I had to pick some schools to apply to,” Peoples, 22, said before walking across the Hancher stage in her pressed white coat. “But I definitely watched that game.”
When the time came to start applying to medical schools, Peoples found herself prioritizing proximity to family — and her grandparents live in Le Claire.
Now that she’s here, the former gymnast who has personally experienced the need for and benefit of sports medicine said that’s where she’d like to focus.
“But we’re told to keep our options open, because we’re going to see a lot.”
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Fast facts from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine 2019 entering class:
Number enrolled in class: 152
Number of women: 76, or 50 percent
Mean age (at admission): 23
Range: 20 to 39 — 13 are 26 or older, 4 are 30 or older
Undergraduate colleges represented: 62
Graduates of Board of Regents institutions: 62, or 40.8 percent;
UI — 47, or 30.9 percent; ISU — 13, or 8.6 percent; and UNI — 2, or 1.3 percent
Graduates of other Iowa colleges: 14, or 9.2 percent
Graduates of colleges outside Iowa: 76, or 50 percent
Underrepresented in medicine: 16, or 10.5 percent
Other minority: 31, or 20.4 percent
White or no response: 105, or 69.1 percent
Source: University of Iowa, UI Hospitals and Clinics spokesman Tom Moore