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Incoming Stony Brook medical students prepare to forge path to diversity, change

Incoming medical students on Sunday at Stony Brook

Incoming medical students on Sunday at Stony Brook University's white-coat ceremony, a symbolic event that welcomes first-year students into the profession of medicine. Photo Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Stony Brook University welcomed its 49th class of medical students to the recently renamed Renaissance School of Medicine on Sunday with a white-coat ceremony recognizing students' accomplishments thus far and preparing them for the years ahead.

One hundred and thirty-six students — chosen from an application pool of more than 5,000 — shrugged on white physician’s jackets and received stethoscopes to kick off their first week of medical school, which begins Monday.

The Class of 2023 "is the most diverse class in the school's history," said Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of health sciences and dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine. "Fifty-three percent of our class members are women, 17 percent of our class are from groups historically underrepresented in medicine, and 21 percent are students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, not to mention medical school."

Kaushansky said diversity, especially of experience and background, gives students the ability to understand and relate to patients, which is critical for success.

The tradition of the white-coat ceremony began at the University of Chicago in 1989 and is considered a rite of passage in the medical profession. Many medical schools choose to hold the ceremony at the end of a student's second or third year, before clinicals. Kaushansky said the Renaissance School students receive their coats before their first year, as Stony Brook aims to give students hands-on experience as early as possible. 

"You will need your white coats early and often," Kaushansky said.

Erin Lavin, 26, of Wantagh, was one of the students to receive a white coat at Sunday’s ceremony and is looking to forge a new path for herself in medicine.

“I would like to see myself as a future mentor to women in medicine,” she said.

Lavin completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame before teaching high school science for two years and spending the past year at home with her 1-year-old daughter, Clodagh.

Now, she’s ready to start her coursework and is interested in orthopedic surgery, an area in which she said women are underrepresented.

“I want to create a space that needs to be there for women,” Lavin said.

Chelsea Grant, 26, a graduate of Harvard University and alumna of the Peace Corps, came to Stony Brook from her home in Brooklyn with a similar goal.

“Of course, I want to help people,” Grant said. “But you can do that in many ways.”

Grant said she wants to be a face in the field of medicine for other persons of African descent, as there aren’t many already in the field. Her ultimate goal is to serve with Doctors Without Borders.

“I want to be part of this change and part of this movement,” she said.

The Class of 2023 is also the first group to begin its medical school career in the newly renamed Renaissance School of Medicine, named for alumni-founded Renaissance Technologies’ employees, who have collectively donated more than $500 million to the university, $200 million of which was given to the medical school.

“We don’t call it Renaissance Technologies School of Medicine, we call it the Renaissance School of Medicine,” Kaushansky said. “We believe we are helping a renaissance of medical education, medical research and of clinical care.”

A prior version of this story incorrectly stated the percentage of students in the 2023 class of the Renaissance School of Medicine who have historically been underrepresented in medicine, and incorrectly stated the distribution of the Renaissance Technologies donations.

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