Seventy-two nursing students make transition from classroom learning to patient care

The “share” screen’s upper half started off dark toward the end of Thursday’s virtual White Coat Ceremony, almost like a gloaming sky. In phases, on command, cameras winked on, revealing tiny images of Norwich University nursing students in their new white coats. In waves, members of the Classes of 2020, 2021 and 2022 formed a tiny galaxy.

That the students shined starlike fit. Seventy-two of them had sworn an oath to keep humanity central as they progressed. Donning their white coats marked their transition from classroom-based instruction to the beginning of hands-on patient care. 

“If you show compassion as you care, if you value integrity, honesty and professionalism, you will be successful, and you will enjoy the gift of being a nurse.” Dr. Paulette Thabault, Norwich University nursing director

“If you listen to your patients, if you seek out their narratives, find out what’s really important to them,” Norwich Nursing Director Paulette Thabault said. “If you show compassion as you care, if you value integrity, honesty and professionalism, you will be successful, and you will enjoy the gift of being a nurse.”

Thursday’s cohort included six students from the accelerated Class of 2020 nursing program; 17 from the accelerated Class of 2021 nursing program; and 49 from the Class of 2022. The ceremony, in its third year at Norwich, continues a tradition the Arnold P. Gold Foundation started in 1993 at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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Norwich University nursing students from left, Kat Babcock-O’Connor and Jessica Sabick pose in their new white coats in photos on Instagram. Seventy-two students were recognized during Thursday’s virtual ceremony. (Photos via Instagram.)

Although White Coat Ceremonies at first honored medical students, the foundation in 2014 partnered with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing to adopt a White Coat Ceremony for nursing. 

Thursday’s virtual ceremony featured comments from Thabault, Llynne Kiernan, a Norwich University associate professor of nursing and Arnold P. Gold Foundation CEO Richard Levin. U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., a registered nurse who has taught future nurse practitioners through Georgetown University’s online master’s program, delivered the keynote address.

Levin called 2020 the Year of the Nurse, marked by the bicentennial of Florence Nightingale’s birth, and congratulated the students for their courage, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“In 2020, this ritual has even more meaning,” he said of the ceremony. “In moments of difficulty and challenge, you can reflect back on your ceremony today and remember again why you first decided to become a nurse — to help people to heal, to care with compassion, to make the world a better place.”

Change agents

Underwood said her nursing training gave her the data-based grounding and practical skills that underpinned her work in Congress. She told the students they can effect positive social change for their neighbors and nation as policy advocates, scholars, researchers, faculty members, clinicians, and will help patients during their direst moments.

“Your passion for helping others, particularly the most vulnerable, is a light that will help you see in the dark,” Underwood said. “And when days are long and you feel tired or sad or worn out, remember that there are patients who look at you as their reason for hope.

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Nursing students involved in Norwich University’s White Coat Ceremony received a commemorative Arnold P. Gold Foundation pin. (Photo by Arnold P. Gold Foundation, via Instagram.)

“Also, remember to take care of yourself and look out for your fellow nurses on the front lines,” Underwood added. “When so many others depend on you, it’s especially important that you’re getting the support that you need … our nation can’t afford to lose you.”

After the students had taken their oath, promising to relieve suffering, apply experience, exercise sound professional judgment and advocate for patients’ health, safety and rights, they had their on-camera star turns. Kiernan spoke encouraging words.

“As you don this white coat, you … are enveloping yourself in that mantle of trust; you instantly become an heir of the reputation and esteem which the profession of nursing has justly earned through centuries,” she said. “Wear your white coats with pride and honor, and strive in your professional lives to be worthy of this great heritage.”

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