First year medical student wearing new white coat shakes hands with faculty member on stage while other students and audience members watch from their seats

After receiving his white coat, Class of 2027 medical student Aaron Dees shakes hands with Jeremiah Dickerson, M.D., on the stage in UVM's Ira Allen Chapel.

Newest Medical Students Receive White Coats

October 18, 2023 by Janet Essman Franz

Photos by David Seaver

Amid colorful autumn foliage on October 13, medical students in the Class of 2027 gathered at UVM’s historic Ira Allen Chapel to receive their first white coats. This rite of passage officially welcomes students into the medical profession and emphasizes the responsibility they carry as they don the traditional physician’s white coat.

Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education, Christa Zehle, M.D.’99, welcomed the students along with an audience of nearly 600 people, including the students’ families, loved ones, and mentors, Larner faculty and staff.  Larner dean Richard L. Page, M.D., UVM Medical Center President and Chief Operating Officer Stephen Leffler, M.D.’90, M.H.C.D.S., FACEP, professor of emergency medicine, and University Distinguished Professor of Medicine Mary Cushman, M.D.’89, M.Sc., president of the Larner College of Medicine Alumni Association, shared their reflections.

“Your white coat is a sign to the world that you are a healer and are committed to making people’s lives better. Wear it proudly but humbly,” advised Leffler from the podium. “Each patient you encounter is someone’s loved one, and each case you are involved in is an opportunity to make a difference. … As you continue your journey towards becoming a physician, please never forget that you have the power to make a real and lasting impact.

Medical students wearing new white coats pose for a photo, as seen through the phone screen of person taking photo

In the ceremony's Humanism in Medicine Keynote Address, Jeremiah Dickerson, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the UVM Medical Center Psychiatry Residency Program, counseled the students to navigate the exhaustion, obstacles, and tensions of practicing medicine with love. Quoting author and educator Bell Hooks, Dickerson said, “Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. It’s interesting that we can probably substitute ‘doctor’ in place of ‘love.’ Being a doctor is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust. … It allows us to see others as human and not simply a checklist of symptoms, a lab value, or a lesion found on imaging.”

One by one during the Presentation of Coats, each student took center stage to be cloaked with their white coat. Tucked into each coat pocket was a keepsake copy of The Oath from the UVM Office of Primary Care and a White Coat Note card with a heartfelt message of encouragement penned by a Larner College of Medicine alum. Dean Page led students in reciting The Oath, which reads in part, “I will remember that there is both art and science to medicine. ...I will practice medicine with conscience and dignity. ...I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.”

University of Vermont’s Newest Future Doctors

The 124 members of the UVM medical Class of 2027 began their medical school journey on August 7, 2023 and are now 10 weeks into the Foundations of Clinical Science course in the College of Medicine’s Foundations level of the curriculum. The students hail from throughout the nation and around the world, and each has a unique story of what brought them to study medicine.

Read on to meet some of the students.

MEd Student Lajla Badnjevic shakes hands after donning her white coatLajla Badnjevic receives congratulations from Stephen Leffler, M.D.’90, and Jeremiah Dickerson, M.D., after receiving her white coat.


Lajla Badnjevic was born in Burlington six months after her family arrived from Bosnia. Raised by her refugee parents and grandmother, she became familiar with the non-profit Community Health Centers system, which her family held in high regard. A 2020 graduate of UVM, Badnjevic is a first-generation college student.

Prior to attending medical school, she worked as a medical assistant for the Community Health Centers in Burlington. She aspires to work in a similar setting, providing family-based medical care to refugees where cultural differences and finances are not barriers to quality health care. While she doesn’t know where residency will take her, she wants to practice in Vermont.

“The last two months have been very busy, which I’ve enjoyed,” said Badnjevic, who was recently elected by her class to serve on the student council. “We’re learning a lot in a short amount of time. I love going to the doctoring skills sessions, practicing patient interaction.”


Breaking down language barriers in health is important to Francisco Coerdero, whose heritage is El Salvadoran and Mexican and first language is Spanish. He studied cellular and molecular biology at San Francisco University and envisions himself working with Latino populations as a pediatric infectious disease specialist.

Getting his white coat feels “very surreal,” he says. “I feel proud and hope that this white coat symbolizes to people that I am a servant of the community that will do anything in my power to help.”


“I feel proud and hope that this white coat symbolizes to people

that I am a servant of the community that will do anything

in my power to help.”

Francisco Coerdero '27

Francisco Coerdero adusts his white coat collar while smiling toward Karen George, M.D. on stage in the Ira Allen Chapel
Francisco Coerdero adjusts his new white coat, with compliments from Karen George, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for students.

Ben Sebuufu wears his new white coat while talking with a Larner College alumnus

Benjamin Sebuufu speaks with Henry Vaillancourt, M.D.’76 outside the Ira Allen Chapel.


Growing up in a rural area in Uganda, Benjamin Sebuufu had a strong relationship with the nurse who cared for his family and was the sole health care provider for the people in his community. He looked up to her, and her kindness and commitment inspired him to pursue a career in medicine, with intention to serve a rural region similar to his childhood home.

Fourteen years after emigrating to the U.S. with his father and siblings and settling in Boston, Sebuufu still keeps in touch with the Ugandan nurse, who watched the live stream of the White Coat ceremony from Uganda.

A first-generation college student, married, and with a young child, Sebuufu said he chose the Larner College of Medicine for its welcoming community and robust global health program, which could allow him to “shadow a physician in a remote area of a faraway country," he said. "I can create a unique educational experience—including research and clinical outreach—that will prepare me to serve and connect with people worldwide, and I can do that in a way that works for my family and me.”

Rural Ohio native Olivia Velasquez worked at free, mobile clinics for migrant farm workers, where she “witnessed doctors volunteering their time to provide basic care to individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have it,” she said. “This was particularly impactful for me because my father’s family grew up as farm workers, too.”

As an undergraduate student at Harvard, Velasquez learned how individuals in urban areas can face similar difficulties in accessing health care. She also draws inspiration from her mother, a nurse who works with patients longitudinally.

Velasquez chose Larner College of Medicine for its focus on collaboration and communities, which is “necessary to making sure individuals aren’t left behind in being able to get basic needs met,” she said.


“This was particularly impactful for me

because my father’s family grew up as farm workers, too.”

Olivia Velasquez '27

Olivia Velasquez wearing her new white coat onstage with medical faculty at the Ira Allen Chapel
Olivia Velasquez receives her white coat onstage at Ira Allen Chapel.

Jai Narain, Anthony Jeong, abd Andrew Warfield pose outside Ira Allen Chapel in their White Coats

Andrew Warfield (right) pauses for a photo with Class of 2027 classmates Jai Narain (left) and Anthony Jeong outside Ira Allen Chapel.

Andrew Warfield spent the COVID pandemic earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience and working in a hospital emergency department in Laramie, Wyoming. Now the Massachusetts native is pursuing an M.D. “to bridge the gap between research and patients, science theory and clinical practice,” he said.

“I really love working in team environments, so anything where I can regularly work alongside other physicians and medical professionals would be ideal. I think research is the best way to figure out how improve care and it’s a great way to always be asking questions.” This ambitious fellow also scuba dives and hopes to gain skills to explore the depths of Lake Champlain.

Receiving his white coat gave him a strong sense of camaraderie and fellowship: “I think the white coat is a symbol for a lot of things, but, the most impactful aspect of the white coat ceremony, to me, is that we get to mark the day that we all embark on this doctoring journey together.”


The most impactful aspect of the white coat ceremony

is that we get to mark the day that we all embark

on this doctoring journey together.”


— Andrew Warfield '27

Group of students wearing white coats taking selfie photos
Med students in their new white coats jumping for joy

Medical Class of 2027 students celebrate after receiving their first white coats.