New Class of Physician Assistant Students Receive Their White Coats

a group of Physican assistant graduates posing for a photo

Maggie Rubin always knew she wanted a career where she was working directly with people. She just wasn’t exactly sure how she would do that, oscillating between health care and education. Then she discovered the physician assistant profession while completing her undergraduate degree in human biology and society at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I instantly knew it was the career for me,” she said. “I loved that it would let me to lean into my curiosity about the human body while also allowing me the opportunity to focus on patient education during visits.”

The San Diego native is now pursuing her passion as a student in the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences’ Master of Science in Health Sciences for Physician Assistants program, inspired by the opportunity to “do rotations in a variety of settings and work with a diverse set of patients throughout the different boroughs.”

a group of physician assistant graduates posing for a photo

Students (L-R) Calvin Lu, Sojin Lee and Caleb Yoo pose together following the white coat ceremony on May 5.

On May 5, Rubin was one of the 47 students in the Class of 2025 to receive their short white coats, gathered before an audience of faculty, family and friends at Griffis Faculty Club as part of the annual white coat ceremony. The act of receiving their white coats signifies the start of their journey as physician assistants.

Dr. Gerard Marciano, co-chair and program director of the Physician Assistant Program, said that the students’ matriculation comes “at an exciting time” as the program has resumed full in-person instruction since the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption.

Dr. Francis Lee, interim dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, highlighted the significance of the day, noting how good it felt to be marking the milestone together in person but also to honor receiving a white coat as a necessary “rite of passage.”

“Donning a white coat is highly symbolic. It affirms our duty to serve patients, reminds us of the privilege, of the trust they place in us, and unites us as health care professionals,” Dr. Lee said. “Today, the mindset shifts from being a student to a care provider. There is nothing like the study of medicine to rapidly prepare you for a lifetime of challenges to overcome, problems to solve and immense satisfaction in the important work you will be doing.”

Dr. Barbara Hempstead, dean of Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, emphasized that the ceremony represents two crucial aspects of the health care journey the students are now embarking on — trust and balance. It is “an enormous privilege to be trusted by patients in their time of need,” she said. 

She explained that a physician assistant will often be the first person a patient turns to as they navigate difficult choices, ask questions and weigh their health care options. Dr. Hempstead told the students that, while this responsibility is immense, they also have to embrace balance. That means taking time to be present in their own communities of friends and family and continue the journey of personal growth through activities outside of the classroom and health care setting.

a group of physician assistant graduates posing for a photo

Students (L-R) Deborah Kang, Jennifer Kenney, Noor Khan and Lydia Kim share smiles as they celebrate the day.

Dr. Randi Silver, associate dean of Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and co-chair of the Physician Assistant Program, added that this class of physician assistants will be tasked with addressing some of the more pressing issues facing society, such as bridging gaps in health disparities, highlighted by the pandemic, and asked the students “to always reflect and examine your own practices to ensure equity in medical care.”

Audrey White, a 2022 graduate of the program who now practices critical care medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital, spoke about the meaning of the white coat in her alumni address to the new class. “The thing about being given a white coat is that you embody a white coat whether you are wearing it or not,” and that this milestone “signifies your commitment to your ideals and a promise to help others.”

That’s something Rubin has been reflecting on herself. “The ceremony was a really beautiful reminder of the responsibility we have to uphold to our future patients.”

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