Kyle Benkel traded his UCF football jersey for a white coat Monday — even though his new uniform, recognizing him as a physician-in-training, came in a plastic bag instead of a ceremony.
Benkel was one of 120 new College of Medicine students who began training at a time dramatically changed by COVID-19. There was no White Coat Ceremony with each student coated by Dean Deborah German in front of family and friends. Instead, this year’s event was a drive-through. Student Affairs leaders and staff put backpacks containing supplies and a white coat into each student’s car trunk. Orientation and classes begin today — virtually.
“Wow, it’s like my new jersey!” Benkel said as he took a brand-new white coat out of its packaging and held it up to his chest. A wide receiver on the team that beat Auburn in the 2018 Peach Bowl, Benkel was also an honors graduate of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences who decided to enter medicine after seeing how physicians healed him twice from football injuries when he was a teen.
“It means the world to me to be able to come to UCF and study medicine,” he said. “I learned a lot of different things from football – and a lot of it is overcoming adversity. So, whenever I’m faced with a challenge, I know that I can conquer it.”
One of those challenges is the physical distancing required during the pandemic. Some students said they were saddened they couldn’t participate in the traditional White Coat Ceremony and meet new classmates in person. But several said the reality of COVID-19 had strengthened their passion for medicine.
“This pandemic really emphasizes the important role a physician plays and it has made my passion stronger,” said Hannah Sage, a UCF graduate who had placed third in the 2018 National Jeopardy College Challenge before coming to medical school. “It makes me want to be able to help. I’m so close, but I still can’t. So I’m excited to learn what I can and make my impact in a couple years.”
During a videotaped White Coat event, Dr. Deborah German, vice president for health affairs and founding dean of UCF’s medical school, talked about the current state of the nation as students begin their training. “These are unsettling times. We’re fighting a pandemic and racial injustice,” she told the new class. “But this is a time for you to rise to the occasion – through your compassion, humility and professionalism.”
At each year’s White Coat ceremony, new medical students participate in their first class – The Good Doctor, a UCF Tradition. There, Dr. German asks students to imagine the person they love most and hen describe the traits they want their beloved person’s physician to have. As students list the characteristics, their dean writes the words on a blackboard that is displayed all year in the College of Medicine rotunda.
This year, The Good Doctor lesson was also virtual. Students had each emailed in 10 to 15 words and Dr. German wrote on the blackboard the most chosen characteristics – including compassionate, humble, knowledgeable, ethical, reliable, trustworthy, caring, honest and respectful.
“You have defined The Good Doctor,” Dr. German said as she stood in front of the board. “These words will stay in the rotunda until the Class of 2025 arrives. Everyone who enters the medical school will see the contract you have made with each other, with your faculty, your community and with me.”
The Class of 2024 is UCF’s twelfth and includes 58 women and 62 men. Its members had an average college GPA of 3.81 and 513 score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). The class includes two military veterans and graduates from Brown, Duke, Emory, Florida State, Notre Dame, Rollins College, Stanford, University of Florida, University of Miami and University of South Florida. Sixteen are UCF alumnae and 15 were the first college graduates in their families.
In his welcoming virtual remarks, UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright told students they were joining a young medical school that is “pioneering how to help people live better.” He talked of the educational, research and patient care opportunities students will have as the university opens its new teaching hospital, UCF Lake Nona Medical Center, and new UCF Lake Nona Cancer Center in early 2021 next to the medical school.
“This is an exciting time for UCF and an even more exciting time for you,” he said. “You are needed now more than ever.”
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