Merrimack College held its first White Coat Ceremony Jan. 26 for its inaugural class of 46 nursing students in the School of Health Sciences who pledged to be compassionate caregivers to patients throughout their careers.
“I have been so excited for this day because it gives us the opportunity to begin to shape future nurses into caring, compassionate and empathetic health care providers,” said Lynne Sheppard, the executive director and associate clinical professor of nursing for Merrimack.
Family and friends, many with bouquets of flowers, crowded into the Rogers Center for the Arts to see the nursing majors. The students, who wore blue medical scrubs, processed into the ceremony to receive their white coats. The coats are reminders for the students to be compassionate and to remain emotionally connected and caring toward patients throughout their medical careers.
Guest speaker and nurse Donna McCarten White, a certified compassion fatigue educator and specialist, praised the students’ choice to pursue nursing careers where every day is a learning experience. While nursing is a well-respected profession, she said, it comes with its challenges. Nurses witness patients’ pain and suffering first-hand and also engage in grueling coursework, studying and clinicals that can take its toll.
“If there is one piece of wisdom to impart to you today, it is to take relentless care of yourselves,” she said.
White expressed confidence that the young students who learn the value of compassion and empathy early in their careers will someday be exemplary mentors and role models to those who come after them.
“To see you today fills me with the hope that we will continue to be a noble profession,” she said.
Each student stepped forward to receive their white coat from associate clinical professor of nursing Janet Ierardi and clinical instructor of nursing Lauren McDonald. School of Health Sciences interim Dean Janet Blum led them in the oath to compassionate patient care.
President Christopher E. Hopey spoke at the event and said the College is honored to teach the next generation of nurses who will change the future of patient care. The evolving health care industry needs compassionate caregivers, patient advocates, leaders, collaborators, critical thinkers and innovators, he said.
“Choosing to become a nurse is a selfless decision, and one that should not be taken lightly,” he said. “Each of you has taken the oath to go forth and change the lives of many, and I am proud of each of you for making that decision.”
Maggie Tardiff ’23, a nursing major from Salisbury, Massachusetts, was excited to be at the event recognizing compassionate caregiving.
“I’ve always wanted to be in health care and I really like helping people,” she said.
Madeleine Guimont ’23, a nursing major from Bedford, New Hampshire, said she is studying nursing to help people and was happy to participate in the ceremony.
“It just feels good to be in the first nursing class,” she said.
The Rev. Ray Dlugos, O.S.A., blessed the students and their instructors as they go forward with their classes and their careers.
The Arnold P. Gold Foundation, who established the White Coat Ceremony to encourage empathy in health care, supported this year’s White Coat Ceremony at Merrimack. A grant was given by Board trustee Elaine Adler and administered through a partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.