August 24, 2001

New dean welcomes new medical students

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First-year medical student Alison Frank shakes Dean Steven Gabbe's hand after she received her white coat during the first day of medical school activities Monday. (photo by Dana Johnson)

New dean welcomes new medical students

Dr. Deborah German gives her traditional "Good Doctor" speech before the White Coat Ceremony held during the first day of medical school activities Monday.(photo by Dana Johnson)

Dr. Deborah German gives her traditional "Good Doctor" speech before the White Coat Ceremony held during the first day of medical school activities Monday.(photo by Dana Johnson)

Jennifer Cannon celebrated her first day as a student at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine like other members of the Class of 2005 – being greeted by the administration and ceremoniously receiving her white coat.

But during the White Coat Ceremony, she sat apart from her 103 classmates, seated instead with her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Richard O. Cannon III, a cardiologist at the National Institutes of Health, and her grandfather, Dr. Richard O. Cannon II, former director of Vanderbilt University Hospital.

Although the day belonged to Jennifer and her classmates, it was also a day of reminiscing for the father and son Vanderbilt-educated physicians. Cannon III is a 1976 graduate of VUSM, and Cannon II holds a 1943 degree.

Jennifer Cannon yelled to her classmates as she put her arms into the sleeves of her white coat, “my grandfather was a member of the class of 1943!” The family connection to Vanderbilt was simply icing on the cake when it was time to make a decision about where to attend medical school, she said.

“The reputation of Vanderbilt stands on its own,” she said, smiling. “It was gratuitous that there was the tradition, that my father and grandfather both came here.”

About 47 percent of the 104 members of the Class of 2005 are women. They come from 38 states and seven foreign countries and 16 colleges and universities. Their average MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) score is 11.1, and their average grade point average is 3.75. Sixty percent of the incoming students majored in natural sciences in college and eight are enrolled in the joint M.D./Ph.D. program. The Class of 2005 also has the medical school’s first M.D./J.D. degree student, David Choolijan.

Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs, told the group that 35 students applied for each of their first-year slots.

“Four years from now, every one of you will add the letters ‘M.D.’ after your name,” Jacobson said. “At Vanderbilt, we work to graduate all of our students.”

Jacobson welcomed the large number of family members who came to Monday’s White Coat Ceremony. Many took photographs and brought video cameras to capture the White Coat Ceremony.

“Each year we have more and more family members participating in this session and it’s wonderful that you do,” Jacobson said. “Our students start their careers at Vanderbilt in a very special way and we congratulate them on the dedication and sacrifice it took to get them here.”

Jacobson, a nephrologist, jokingly told the students that the “wisest and most superior” among them would become nephrologists. “We hope that the others of you might find some meaning in your careers, too.”

Dr. Steven G. Gabbe, Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, was introduced to the students as the “engineer of this medical school.” Gabbe was attending his first medical school orientation as dean. Last year, Dr. John E. Chapman presided over his 25th White Coat ceremony, shortly before he stepped down as Dean.

“We’re starting together, you as first-year medical students and me as a first-year dean,” Gabbe told the students. “We expect great things from you. We’re expecting you to become leaders in your field.

“We expect to open up a medical journal or a newspaper someday and say we remember you and your time at Vanderbilt.”

Also, included in the medical student’s first day was the traditional “Good Doctor” lecture by Dr. Deborah C. German, senior associate dean for Medical Education. Students are asked to imagine that someone close to them is seriously ill and they are in a physician’s waiting room with that person. They are asked to name the qualities a good physician would have.

“It’s a privilege to be in this profession, but with this privilege comes responsibility,” German said. “Our contract with you is that in the next four years….you will become this doctor. This is your goal….to become this doctor. We promise to do our part to help you reach this goal and you must do yours.”

Drs. Gerald S. Gotterer, senior associate dean for Faculty Affairs and Bonnie M. Miller, associate dean for Medical Students, assisted Gabbe and Dr. J. Harold Helderman, chairman of the admissions committee, in the annual first-year tradition, the White Coat Ceremony. The physician’s white coat, worn by physicians since the late 19th century, is a symbol of honesty and integrity, the students were told.

The Class of 2005 includes a set of identical twins, the second set attending VUSM. Howard and Kimball Christianson join fourth-year twins Justin and Dana Piasecki.

The 26-year-old Christianson twins, from Provo, Utah, played football together at the University of Utah. They began thinking about going to medical school eight years ago because they wanted a people-oriented profession.

“We’re definitely best friends,” said Howard, adding that he and his brother share a duplex – Kimball and his wife on one side, Howard on the other. “We’ve always enjoyed the same things and have always found it productive to study together. Somewhere along the way, we discovered we have similar interests, including medicine.”

And the well-rounded class also includes a champion baton twirler, Rhonda Bitting, who was the featured twirler in the Duke University Marching Band. Bitting, 22, who hopes to pursue either neurology or geriatric medicine, began twirling when she was eight and competing when she was 12.