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Department of Nursing holds its first white coat ceremony for grad students

The event celebrates the newly launched online degree program offering a Master of Science in Nursing degree

White coat ceremony student receives jacket from Sharon O'Neill
Sharon O'Neill, right, gives a student her white coat in the first ceremony held by the Department of Nursing. (Photo/John Davis)

For USC nursing students learning together online from across the country, the opportunity to finally meet in person led to a celebration and their upcoming work in one of the most demanding — and rewarding — of professions.

A sense of accomplishment filled the room as the students gathered for a new, annual academic tradition begun by the Department of Nursing at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The school held its first white coat ceremony in December for Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) students at classrooms in downtown Los Angeles.

The ceremony celebrated students’ successful completion of their first semester and bestowed upon each of them their own medical practitioner’s white coat. This group is the first cohort to enter the newly launched online degree program that offers an MSN degree with specialization as a Family Nurse Practitioner.

Students, their families and guests, and nursing faculty and staff were welcomed to the afternoon ceremony by Clinical Associate Professor Sharon O’Neill, vice chair of the Department of Nursing and director of the Family Nurse Practitioner program.

“The white coat represents attainment of a prestigious milestone in a health care professional’s career,” O’Neill said. “It is given as a formal welcome to the profession and to emphasize the commitment they make to patient care. The desire to hold this ceremony came from our collective belief that nursing and social work both play a major role in promoting health and addressing social barriers to health and productivity.”

Dean Marilyn Flynn honored the students for their hard work and welcomed them to the USC school’s family.

“As the first nursing students to take part in the white coat ceremony, you hold a special place in the history of our school,” she said. “We also recognize the dedication of our nursing faculty and staff who have helped launched this degree program.”

Making the grade

To receive their coat, each student was required to complete pathophysiology and health assessment courses with grades of “B” or better and conduct a head-to-toe physical examination on a fellow student while being assessed by a qualified faculty member. Each member of the class successfully completed these requirements and received their coat at the ceremony.

“After receiving my white coat, I feel incredibly honored, privileged and excited to be part of the very first cohort in this dynamic and groundbreaking program,” said first-year student Dalia Copti. “The merging of nursing and social work in the curriculum will be monumental for both professions and for the patients who receive care from the future nurse practitioners that graduate from the program.”

Professor Ellen Olshansky, chair of the Department of Nursing, also emphasized the value of training nurses in both the science of nursing and the science of social work.

group photo of masters of nursing candidates

The white coat ceremony is a rite of passage. (Photo/John Davis)

“Our program gives nurses a balanced preparation for looking at health and facilitates collaborative health care,” she said. “Nurses need partners in social work to improve outcomes, and they can, in turn, make health policy recommendations and advocate against policies that cause health inequalities.”

As the MSN degree program continues to attract increasing numbers of students to the Department of Nursing, the ceremony will become a yearly milestone for the school and is part of a growing trend.

Though the white coat has been worn by doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists for many years, the ceremony is relatively new. The first took place in 1993 at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and is now held in 96 percent of medical schools nationwide and around the world.

Nursing programs began offering the ceremony in 2014 after the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the American Colleges of Nursing initiated a drive to help start it for nursing students.

The purchase of the white coats USC nursing students received was supported by a gift from USC alumna and longtime supporter of the university Christine Ofiesh ’82, who feels the new degree program for nurses is an important addition to USC’s offerings.

“I was very pleased to support the first white coat ceremony for these dedicated nurses,” she said. “I believe in this innovative program and its commitment to training nurses who will become leaders and agents of change in health care.”

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Department of Nursing holds its first white coat ceremony for grad students

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