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U. med students don white coats, new duties

BYU president urges them to maintain a steadfast honesty

John Carbonell Bautista tried for two years to get into the University of Utah's School of Medicine. On Friday, when he donned his white coat for the first time, he was all smiles.

"He's awesome, he knows everything, and I'm excited for him that he's doing this," said Bautista's brother Joseph Carbonell Bautista. John was one of 80 new students who were given a crisp, clean lab coat and brand-new stethoscope as a rite of passage into the intense four-year program, a tradition of more than 100 medical schools nationwide.

The white coat, a symbol of compassionate care and expert professionalism for physicians around the world, sets the students apart for their clinical competence and medical obligations, according to David J. Bjorkman, dean of the U.'s School of Medicine.

"By the end of your fourth year in the program, you will understand caring for and caring about your patients," he told the class of 2013.

Students and physicians present at the induction ceremony at Kingsbury Hall recited the Oath of Hippocrates, which exemplifies their commitment to "the health and life" of patients. It will also be repeated during the students' doctoral hooding and graduation ceremony.

The new medical students were told they could remove their lab coats to bathe and to sleep, but "whatever else you do, wherever else you are … you have the charge to be one worthy of your white coat," said Brigham Young University President Cecil O. Samuelson, who addressed the students and their families as a U. School of Medicine alumnus.

"You can probably guess I still favor doctors who look like doctors," he said.

The current health-care situation, Samuelson said, is uncertain. He said that some things need to be changed, and some things need to be guarded and protected.

"I will tell you it is a highly honored and essential profession," Samuelson said. "There has never been a better time to be in medicine because the potential for doing good has never been better." He cautioned students against falling to the demands of the profession and encouraged them to keep a balance with their personal lives and a steadfast standard of honesty.

"A failure on your part is also a great cost to many others," he said.

The overwhelming burden to succeed is weighing on incoming medical student Brett Walker.

"A lot is expected of me," he said, adding that getting there was half the battle, and he's up for the remaining challenge.

Acceptance to the U. School of Medicine is highly competitive, like many medical schools around the country, and offers many opportunities for hands-on learning with a massive health-care complex adjacent to campus. Walker said he might study to become a radiologist, but he's keeping it open, as other doors may open during the course of his graduate education.

Fourth-year medical student Jeremy Sunseri said his most memorable experience was not found in the classroom or learned from a textbook, "but at the bedside of a patient."

The students, following the week of orientation activities that culminated with Friday's ceremony, transitioned from being young scholars into medical professionals, Sunseri said.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com