Health Workers, Students Demonstrate Support at #WhiteCoatsforBlackLives Vigil

June 16, 2020 by Jennifer Nachbur

More than 250 University of Vermont Medical Center staff members, Larner College of Medicine students and leaders gathered June 5 at 1 p.m. for a silent demonstration of support for racial justice in honor of George Floyd and others who have died due to racism and police brutality.

Pictured above: UVM Medical Center and Larner College of Medicine staff and students silently take a knee outside of the hospital and medical school in support of #WhiteCoatsForBlackLives. (Credit: Ryan Mercer, UVM Medical Center)

More than 250 University of Vermont Medical Center staff members, Larner College of Medicine students and leaders gathered June 5 at 1 p.m. for a silent demonstration of support for racial justice in honor of George Floyd and others who have died due to racism and police brutality.

Wearing white coats, scrubs, uniforms, office attire and masks, participants took a knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—the length of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Mr. Floyd's neck. Attendees spread out across the plaza between UVM's Dana Medical Library and Converse Hall, up the adjacent steps to the medical center's main entrance, and down the sidewalk to the Emergency Department.

Medical centers across the country took part in the event aligned with White Coats for Black Lives (WC4BL), a national medical student organization founded in 2014 following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., at the hands of police. The mission of WC4BL is to "dismantle racism in medicine and promote the health, well-being, and self-determination of people of color."

Organizers Amy Teleron, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, and Joanna Conant, M.D., assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, each learned of the nationwide vigil via female physician social media groups. Teleron quickly took steps to notify UVM Medical Center leaders and UVM diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders about the event and the two clinicians met to determine an appropriate location and format for the event on campus.

They decided on an event with no speeches to ensure "that this moment was an opportunity for each and every one of us to silently reflect and commit to standing up against racism," said Conant.

"This vigil represents our commitment to ending racism," said Teleron, a hospitalist and deputy director of the biological branch of UVM Medical Center's COVID-19 Incident Command.

“Racism is a healthcare issue; it’s a public health issue," said Conant during an interview with local CBS affiliate WCAX-TV. "We know that there’s a disproportionately higher number of African Americans who are dying from COVID-19 . . . Racial inequality is a driver of these social determinants of health and directly affects the health of our BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community,” she added.

Conant and Teleron believe that roughly 70 medical students took part in the vigil, along with representatives from all areas of the medical center—residents, fellows, attending physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacy staff, security staff, patient placement staff, case management/social workers. Leaders, including College of Medicine deans, department chairs, and hospital administrators, were also in attendance.

Among the dozens of physicians taking part in the vigil was Professor of Medicine Macauley Onuigbo, M.D., a nephrologist, Diversity and Inclusion Departmental Champion for the Department of Medicine, and member of the Larner Gender Equity Steering Committee.

“Hundreds of faculty, medical students, and residents all in one place . . . The outpouring of support from white Americans—it gives you all the hope in the world,” said Onuigbo in an interview with Local ABC22/Fox44 news following the event.

In summing up the event, Teleron said "it's important that we all band together, acknowledge the data, and take action to improve our healthcare system for everyone, but specifically for our black community members."
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