Nursing White Coat Ceremony 16

The third annual white coat ceremony held by Clemson’s School of Nursing welcomed 119 incoming freshmen.
Image Credit: Terry Busby

The Clemson University School of Nursing held its third annual white coat ceremony for 119 incoming freshmen on Sept. 16 in Tillman Auditorium. The students received their first official white coats and stood together to recite a nursing oath, pledging to practice their profession faithfully and devote themselves to the welfare of those committed to their care.

Kathleen L. Valentine, director and associate dean of Clemson’s School of Nursing, welcomed attendees and marked the moment as the students began their responsibilities as future nurses. Students were called on stage and cloaked with their white coats by faculty advisors in Clemson’s Student Nurses Association.

“The white coat symbolizes the rigor required to study nursing science and practice its art as a healing professional,” Valentine said. “The coat represents the privilege you will have in entering into a therapeutic relationship with patients and families when they are most vulnerable.”

John J. Whitcomb, undergraduate studies coordinator and associate professor in the School of Nursing, served as the event’s distinguished speaker. He defined “character” and tied together the concepts of excellence, attitude and leadership in his speech. He encouraged students to become “game changers” and to build their own personal “’A’ teams.” He called attention to the fact that their career choices, attitudes, perspectives and professional approaches carry profound importance.

Other speakers included Brett Wright, dean of the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences; and Sheri Webster, assistant professor and coordinator of the accelerated second degree program in the School of Nursing. Wright congratulated students on their admission to the program and told parents they could take pride as their students were admitted to one of the most difficult academic majors on campus. Webster charged students to “bring their best selves, take things one step at a time without losing sight of the goal and be open to the unexpected.”

Student Nurses Association President Mary Frances Runion also spoke to the new nursing students about her personal journey. She fondly remembered the excitement of receiving the “Tiger Town Bound” packet in the mail, and the nervous excitement of receiving her first nursing uniform. Terry Busby, senior lecturer in the School of Nursing, provided perspective on what kind of impact a seemingly simple white coat can have on students in the program.

“I’ve had students tell me that wearing the white coat made becoming a nurse feel like a reality,” Busby said. “It made them more aware that the subjects they are studying in class are about so much more than just passing an exam.”

Traditionally, white coat ceremonies have been important rites of passage at schools of medicine and other health science disciplines. However, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing initiated a pilot in 2014 to expand these ceremonies into the nursing field in an effort to increase patient-centered care at the beginning of a nurse’s professional formation.

Clemson’s inaugural white coat ceremony grew out of this initiative. Clemson’s Student Nurses Association and its Breakthrough to Nursing Committee plans and hosts the white coat ceremony. Students Sarah Wills and Alexandra Marble chair the committee. Wills said she relished the opportunity to play a part in the event’s planning because of the amount of people it impacts.

“I’m halfway through this amazing program, and planning the ceremony reminded me of why I chose the nursing program,” Wills said. “New students feel loved and celebrated by friends, family and faculty, and the students are jittery with excitement and passion that is simply contagious.”