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The Meaning of Our New Coats

Hannah and her parents

The Class of 2020 has officially been draped in the historical, white fabric of the healthcare profession! In the weeks leading up to our White Coat Ceremony, there was a palpable excitement among my classmates about finally receiving our white coats. Many of us took different paths to get to this point; some of us coming straight from college, others after a gap year, or even after an extended pause from academics to work. In addition, we all have different reasons for pursuing a career in optometry as a result of the various experiences that have shaped our personal values and passions. For these reasons, the white coat has multifaceted meaning.

In one aspect, the white coat signifies an academic accomplishment, not just of completing our first year of optometry school, but a culmination of the grades, test scores, extracurricular involvements, and interviews it took to become students at NECO. Therefore, the white coat ceremony doesn’t necessarily symbolize the “start” of a journey. Rather, it signifies the tangible transition from being undergraduate and first-year graduate students studying the sciences, to future clinicians diagnosing disease and providing a high quality care that is grounded in professionalism, integrity, and empathy.

It is because of this transition that the white coat ceremony also signifies a re-commitment to our optometric education. Attending lectures and labs are not simply about doing well on exams and passing clinical proficiencies. Rather, it is about developing and refining our clinical acumen to provide the best care for our patients. As OD2’s at NECO, we are placed into our first clinic sites, working alongside optometrists who serve as our preceptors, and third and fourth year students, to provide patient care.

In the first month of being a second year, I’ve already worked with 10 patients, getting a small, yet meaningful taste of what my next 3 years at NECO and my career post-graduation will be like. It is an absolute privilege to be able to able to don a white coat in the likeness of the upper year students and established optometrists I work with. With this privilege comes the renewed responsibility to take our academic and clinical education seriously because one day, it is what will provide our patients with clear vision or to save their vision.

Hannah with raised arms crossing the stage in her white coat.Our White Coat ceremony was something I will never forget. Being recognized individually and being coated by our professors in the presence of President Scott, faculty members, and our families who have watched us grow and work hard made it all the more special. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get through my first year without the guidance of professors, the encouragement of classmates, and the love and support of my family. The ceremony was a great reminder of the team effort involved in making our future careers in optometry a reality.

While we all relished in the new addition to our wardrobes that day, my classmates and I walked away from the ceremony with more than just a new coat. I admit, I went to sleep that night after taking one more peek at my new coat. But when I woke up the next morning, it was not my fascination of my coat that got me out of bed and to class. Rather, it was the profound awareness of the unique opportunity I have undertaken to improve how members of society will experience life through sight.

Hannah is a second year student who is originally from Rochester, NY. She is a 2016 graduate of Boston College, where she studied Behavioral Neuroscience and minored in Medical Humanities. Some of her most formative experiences at BC include volunteering weekly at a children’s hospital, traveling to Nicaragua on a service and cultural immersion trip, and studying the neurobiology of eating and eating disorders through an undergraduate research fellowship. Hannah's decision to pursue optometry wasn’t completely made until the summer before her senior year at BC. Despite this relatively late start, she believes that her Jesuit education at BC has cultivated a deep sense of social responsibility to serve communities as an optometrist, perhaps by participating in vision science research adapted towards treatments for rare ocular conditions or by providing basic eye exams to underprivileged communities in the US and Latin America. She is thrilled to be spending another 4 years in the historically rich city of Boston, but this time, as a graduate student and living in the heart of Boston with 2 other roommates! She cannot wait to see where the next four years at NECO will lead her, as well as her classmates in the class of 2020!