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EDINBURG, RGV – In a speech at the inaugural White Coat Ceremony of the UTRGV School of Medicine, UT System Chancellor William H. McRaven said an entire region is rooting for the 55 new medical students.

“A whole lot of people have been waiting for you. A whole lot of people are counting on you, myself included,” McRaven said.

McRaven, a retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral, drew parallels between the uniform he wore and the uniforms the students will wear as doctors. He said the white coats will transform the students, from the moment they put them on.

“By putting on the white coat you are volunteering for a course of training and ultimately a career that will test you physically, mentally, and spiritually. You are volunteering for long hours, for time away from family and friends, for constant heartbreak, because you want to serve your fellow man,” McRaven said.

McRaven said the 55 students have accepted and embraced the high expectations of the medical profession. “You will be unwavering in your professionalism. You will heal, you will comfort, you will be at your best when patients need you the most. You will give them hope. That is what I see and it is what the world sees when they see that white coat,” he said.

McRaven said the ceremony was not just a celebration of the achievements of an extraordinary group of students but also a celebration of a milestone being reached in the life of the Rio Grande Valley.

“At long last, a child born today will have the opportunity to stay in the Valley from their pre-K education all the way through high school, undergraduate studies, medical school, residency training and medical practice. The loop has finally been closed and that is going to change the trajectory of the entire region permanently and for the better. So, as we celebrate the accomplishments and potential of an extraordinary group of students we are also celebrating a milestone in the life of the entire region.”

The ceremony was held at the UTRGV Edinburg campus auditorium. UTRGV President Guy Bailey introduced McRaven. Here is McRaven’s speech in full:

Thank you very much, Guy, for that kind introduction. I want to thank Frank Fernandez along with his faculty and staff you have done such a phenomenal job standing up the school of medicine. And, of course, Steve Lieberman, who has clearly hit the ground running in your new role. So thank you all very much.

And to our new medical students. I am sure it has already dawned on you that while today marks an important personal milestone, it is also a day the entire region has been looking forward to for a very long time. A whole lot of people have been waiting for you. A whole lot of people are counting on you, myself included.

I grew up about 230 miles north of here in San Antonio. My mother was a school teacher who also volunteered at Wilford Hall Hospital at Lackland Airport Base. From the time I was a little boy my mother longed for me to be a doctor. She loved the fact there were doctors in my family tree. Not on her side but my father’s father and his father were both doctors. My grandfather served in both World War I and World War II as a doctor but his real service in life was taking care of the people of New Madrid County in Missouri. He was the quintessential country doctor, exchanging his medical services for eggs and bread and livestock. He died flat broke and yet I am convinced he was the richest man in New Madrid because over 5,000 people came to his funeral.

To my mother’s chagrin, I did not follow in his footsteps, nor my great grandfather’s footsteps. I never donned the white coat. Destiny had a different path in mind for me and a different kind of uniform. After graduating from the University of Texas I embarked on a career as a navy seal. And while that may seem like a very different career choice than the one you have made, I believe they are similar in some very important respects. It is why I wanted to be here today and it is why this ceremony resonates so powerfully with me.

Today you are, in effect, putting on the uniform of a medical professional. Now take it from me, a uniform will transform you the second you put it on. Think of the attributes of your uniform and what they represent. In the military we have what is called a unit patch. When I put on my uniform, I know I am representing that unit. The patch I wore was the navy seal trident. Everybody who wears the trident is expected to behave in a way that honors the standards and the traditions of a navy seal. Today, as you put on your white coats, you have joined a similarly elite group.

The coat tells the world that while your education is far from complete you are no longer merely students. You have accepted and embraced the high expectations of the medical profession. You will be unwavering in your professionalism. You will heal, you will comfort, you will be at your best when patients need you the most. You will give them hope. That is what I see and it is what the world sees when they see that white coat.

Now in addition to my unit patch my uniform had something else very important on it. It had my name, my family name, the name of my father and my grandfather who served before me. I realized, as soon as I put on the uniform, that I was also representing my family. And the same goes for all of you. Earning a white coat is a phenomenal accomplishment and we are all here to salute the hard work and the determination that went into it. But never, ever, forget that while it is your personal name that is on that uniform you are also representing your mothers and fathers and siblings and everyone who has supported you on the journey and sacrificed on your behalf. Keep them in mind and honor them.

Of course, the most important thing my uniform had on it was the American flag. As soon as I put the uniform on I knew I was representing everybody in the United States of America. Your coats don’t have the flag but they have something that is just as meaningful – the logo of the UTRGV School of Medicine. I know that 20 of you who are from the Valley already understand and I dare say the rest of you have probably figured it out as well. Unlike any class of students beginning medical school anywhere in the world right now, you are part of something unique, something historic.

At long last, a child born today will have the opportunity to stay in the Valley from their Pre-K education all the way through high school, undergraduate studies, medical school, residency training and medical practice. The loop has finally been closed and that is going to change the trajectory of the entire region permanently and for the better. So, as we celebrate the accomplishments and potential of an extraordinary group of students we are also celebrating a milestone in the life of the entire region.

One final thought. One last parallel between the paths destiny had in store for me 40 years ago and the journey you are embarking on today. In 1973 the military transitioned from the draft to an all-volunteer force. A lot of people thought it would never work. Who would volunteer to be in the military? The pay is low the conditions are tough, the sacrifices, including lots of time away from home and family are huge. The naysayers were quickly proven wrong. Volunteers came in droves. Not only that, but the quality of those serving jumped dramatically. They were hungry to serve, to make a difference.

In the same way, the medical profession, perhaps the most challenging profession in the world, is made up entirely of volunteers. By putting on the white coat you are volunteering for a course of training and ultimately a career that will test you physically, mentally, and spiritually. You are volunteering for long hours, for time away from family and friends, for constant heartbreak, because you want to serve your fellow man.

And so I have come here to Edinburg, yes, to congratulate you, but also to thank you. Though you still have long road ahead of you, you have already made me and everyone here proud. Now, go make the most of this opportunity. Go make a difference.  Thank you all, very much. 

Editor’s Note: The above story is the first in a three-part series focusing on the beginning of UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. Part Two will be posted on Monday.

Editor’s Note: The photos accompanying this story were provided by UT-Rio Grande Valley.