As Mother Did Before Her Roanoker Dons White Coat at VT Veterinarian School

Members of the Class of 2022 assembled for group photos after receiving their official white coats during the veterinary college’s matriculation ceremony held on Aug. 17. Photo by Devon Rowland.

When Sara Farthing crossed the stage at the Inn at Virginia Tech on Aug. 17, she followed in her mother’s footsteps in more ways than one.

Farthing, a first-year veterinary student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, donned her official white coat for the first time with the help of her mom, Lisa Wilson, veterinarian and owner of Brandon Animal Hospital in Roanoke and a 1988 graduate of the veterinary college.

“This is something I have been dreaming of my entire life and it finally became a reality, so it’s kind of surreal,” said Farthing. “I was holding back tears the whole time, just because my mom – the person I look up to the most and the doctor I aspire to be – she’s the one who gave me my coat.”

That evening, Farthing and her classmates participated in the college’s annual White Coat Ceremony that capped a week-long orientation designed to prepare them for the next four years of professional training. Some members of the Class of 2022 selected a family member or mentor to help them into their coat, while others received their coat from Gregory Daniel, interim dean of the college.

Daniel spoke directly to students during the ceremony about the white coat’s significance as a symbol of professionalism. “As students, you will be accountable to yourselves, to each other, and to your faculty mentors for your integrity and commitment to learning,” he said. “After graduation, you will be accountable to your patients, clients, and the communities that you serve. You will be expected to present yourself in a professional manner, to communicate effectively, to provide the very best health care available under the circumstances, and to do so with honesty and diligence.”

During the event, students also received a stethoscope to mark their transition into the profession and were welcomed by representatives from the college’s alumni society and the Virginia and Maryland veterinary medical associations. Students recited the veterinary student’s oath before Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs, delivered closing remarks.

The 126 members of the Class of 2022 made it through a highly competitive application process. More than 1,600 prospective students applied for admission, representing the second largest applicant pool in North America, according to figures from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The college has held this ranking for four consecutive years.

First-year student Dan Mazula was originally on a path to medical school. After completing his degree in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, the Lakeville, Minnesota, native worked in research at the Mayo Clinic for four years. Mazula then chose to follow his passion for working with animals instead.

“I volunteered with a TNR – trap, neuter, and release – program, and I fell in love with the profession,” Mazula said. “I came here and interviewed, and I just loved the feel of the town, and the school seemed so inviting. It was less focused on competition between students, and it seemed like the faculty really wanted you to succeed and wanted the whole group to succeed. It ultimately made me say, ‘this is definitely the place I need to go.’”

Earlier in the week, first-year students completed orientation activities designed to produce well-rounded and professional veterinary students. In addition to lectures, tours, and presentations at the college, students visited the Alta Mons campground in Shawsville, Virginia, for a day of team-building exercises designed to boost their leadership and communication skills.

“The whole purpose behind our orientation is to promote teamwork and team dynamics,” said Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services. “These students will be working together over the next four years. It is important for them to get to know each other as colleagues so that they can support each other through the four years and in their professional lives after graduation as well.”

“Health professionals always work in teams, whether they are in research, in clinical practice – wherever their paths take them, they will be working in health care teams,” Pelzer said. “And there is a patient outcome associated with these teams. It is essential for our students to learn these teamwork skills.”

The Class of 2022 includes 87 Virginia and Maryland residents and 39 out-of-state students who arrived with a 3.5 average cumulative grade point average. The class’ graduation year marks an important milestone at Virginia Tech — the university’s 150th anniversary, its sesquicentennial.

The college also held orientation sessions on Aug. 16 for new students in the master of public health and the biomedical and veterinary sciences graduate programs. In the afternoon, graduate and veterinary students gathered in small groups for a welcome luncheon as well as a group exercise that challenged students to use a transdisciplinary One Health approach to tackle a disease outbreak scenario.

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