University of Houston College of Medicine welcomes first class, aims to tackle healthcare disparities

HOUSTON – The University of Houston College of Medicine welcomed 30 newly-minted medical students to their chosen profession during a white coat ceremony on Saturday.

This was the first time the inaugural class came together in person, though, in a socially distant way at the Hilton University of Houston.

The white coats are more than pieces of clothing. The ceremony is designed to clarify for students. A reminder that a physician’s responsibility is to both take care of patients and care about patients, according to the university.

“For me, it symbolizes humility. The purpose that we have,” said medical student Breanna Charchere.

“It’s a responsibility. It’s an honor,” Rosemary Agwuncha, another student, said.

The socially distanced ceremony included having the new medical students reciting an oath written by the entire class. Each student put on their own coats. Affixed on their coats will be Humanism in Medicine lapel pins donated by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors white coat ceremonies at medical schools throughout the country.

“The white coat ceremony is not only a special and symbolic event for our students as they embark on careers in medicine but for the entire city of Houston because that’s where their impact will be felt,” said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine. “The current health crisis in our country has forced us to adapt, improvise and solve problems amid uncertainty – all key skills required of great physicians. I’m proud to say our new medical students are tackling these challenges head on.”

The University said it is taking a bold and fresh new approach to medical education. The university aims to tackle a key contributor to poor health: a shortage of primary care doctors.

“Improve the quality of life in our community and there is a crying need for more primary care physicians for more physicians serving the underserved and for reducing the disparities in some of our geographic communities. That’s our mission,” Spann said.

By addressing key factors that affect their patients’ health, such as food insecurity, the environment and housing. These future doctors will help eliminate health disparities in underserved urban and rural areas, which often have poorer health outcomes, according to the University.

The crew of 30 said they are prepared to take on this challenge. The group itself comes from all walks of life.

Demographics for UH College of Medicine inaugural class

  • 73% were of underrepresented minorities in medicine
  • 63% were female
  • 57% were first-generation in college
  • 40% were of low socioeconomic status, as defined by Texas Medical Dental Schools Application Services
  • 100% were Texas resident, 13 Houston natives

“People cannot become what they can’t see and so I’m grateful to be among. Two percent of the physicians in the United States [who] are black females,” Agwuncha said. It’s this mission to serve that brings these students here.

Of the more than 1700 applicants, less than 10% were interviewed. Only 30 were selected.

”That is the reason why many of us are here. We’re here because the school really has identified a goal that resonates with our goals…What can we do systemically at the policy level at the community level,” Chachere said.

The students also recognized the timing.

“We are entering the medical field in the most important time–during the pandemic,” Nabeel Ahmad, another student, said.

However, they will have some help. Each student earned a $100,000 4-year scholarship.

“I’ll remember this forever,” Ahmad said.

Building plans for the College of Medicine are underway. The building is set to be complete in 2022.

Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston – All rights reserved.

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