LAKEWOOD RANCH -- When medical students are given white coats, it signifies their education will take them on a new path from the classroom to the community.
Often, they are first-year students about to obtain valuable experience working side-by-side with physicians in hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and private practice settings.
On Saturday, 196 medical and 141 pharmacy students at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) in Lakewood Ranch made their transitions during a formal "White Coat" ceremony held at Harvest United Methodist Church in Lakewood Ranch before family, friends, mentors and educators.
During two separate presentations, the Class of 2018 pledged their professionalism by reaffirming their commitment to school and quality health care for their future patients.
Local LECOM alumni, Dr. Julia King (Class of 2009), a physician at Lakewood Ranch Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Michelle Rodriguez (Class of 2013), an assistant professor in pharmacy practice, gave keynote addresses to their respective schools.
Calling it a pivotal moment in their medical careers, Rodriguez told the future pharmacists seated in
the audience that they have a unique ability to cross social and cultural boundaries in their profession.
"For many patients you encounter, you may be their only voice. What's important about the white coat is the altruism and professionalism it symbolizes for the person who wears it," she said.
First-year pharmacy student, Brittany Smith, a Palmetto High School alumnus, who graduated in 2009 from the University of South Florida in Tampa with a biomedical sciences degree, said she will begin interning this summer with rotations at local hospitals and pharmacies.
"This will help us get used to talking to patients in different settings. There are so many options so this will help us get used to doing everything, and then choosing what we're most passionate about."
Parents Steve and Tanya Smith of Parrish said they always knew that Brittany, who received a 4.0 grade-point average for her first semester at LECOM, would go far.
"We are very proud. She was always a gifted student and she always put her schooling above everything else," said Tanya Smith, who expressed happiness having her daughter attend school locally.
LECOM, headquartered in Erie, Pa., opened its Lakewood Ranch campus in 2004, establishing a College of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dental Medicine.
"The school and the community's commitment to health care has been a wonderful partnership," said Dr. Hershey S. Bell, dean of the LECOM School of Pharmacy.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @Moschellaherald.