Families, friends, faculty and staff gathered at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s event lawn last Friday evening to celebrate and welcome 148 new DVM students during the annual White Coat Ceremony. With a mix of laughter and a few tears, the Class of 2023 received words of advice and encouragement before donning their white lab coats and reciting the veterinarian’s oath.
Dean Michael Lairmore offered opening remarks to the 71st class of veterinary students at UC Davis and acknowledged that each of them had the ability to apply to medical school and become doctors who treat humans; instead they were accepted into a profession that treats humanity.
This new class comes with their own histories, talents, and dreams and a wealth of life experiences. The class includes multigenerational DVM students, Elizabeth Grant and Ali Pankowski, whose mothers were past presidents of the California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA).
As a first-generation college student, Lairmore highlighted some of the 29 students who are also the first in their families to obtain a college degree. They include Mirella Lopez, who has already volunteered in the school’s Knight's Landing One Health Clinic. This unique clinic provides free veterinary services to an underserved community outside of Woodland. At the clinic, veterinary students work alongside medical students, providing health services to the people and pets of this predominantly Latino community.
In this role, Mirella translated and spoke directly with clients about their pets and the importance of bringing them into the clinic. Like so many of her new classmates, she has given back through her service, while developing her knowledge and leadership skills.
Another first generation student, David White, immersed himself in activities related to food animal health, by working in a veterinary practice. He also worked as a surgery technician here at the UC Davis veterinary hospital, and participated in the Young Cattlemen's Association and Animal Welfare Club.
David’s experiences as a large animal veterinary assistant solidified his passion for helping people whose livelihoods depend on animals. Working in a rural community allowed him to understand the intersections of food animal, farmer, and human health.
Yafen Zhen is another first generation student. Coming from an immigrant background with parents who speak little English, she mastered effective communication skills by interacting with business professionals while helping handle her family’s finances. Family challenges led her into a financial services and education opportunity which allowed her to work and mitigate her family’s financial stress. Her discipline and understanding of finance will serve her well as she pursues her desire to become a veterinary pathologist.
Other fun facts about the incoming class include: One student is related to one of the convicted witches at Salem, MA. His 9th great-grandmother is the only convicted witch to have escaped prison. One worked at the Los Angeles Zoo with zebras and marsupials. Another member, at the age of 11, spent six hours saving their “belly-up” goldfish after he was bit by a cat. The fish lived for six more years. One new class member has a pet steer who enjoys snacking on carrots and having his belly brushed.
“No,” Lairmore said, “he cannot be housed in your home room in Valley Hall.”
Lairmore concluded his remarks with this: “The Class of 2023, our school’s vision is to lead veterinary medicine and address societal needs. You are now part of that vision and you are a part of our collective future. The roles of veterinarians in our society are expanding into areas, based not on the letters behind your name, but the talent you bring to address a problem we all face in our interconnected world.”
Guest speaker, Dr. Michelle Chang ’14, shared her story of persistence in finding a role in public health. Chang received her veterinary degree from UC Davis and both her bachelor's degree and Master of Public Health degree from UC Berkeley. She is currently a public health veterinarian for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, where she oversees rabies control and prevention and animal importation within the Veterinary Public Health Program.
“The idea that there are limited opportunities to succeed in vet med or in life in general, is absolutely false,” Chang told the incoming class. “The opportunities are limitless, and another person’s success has no bearing on your ability to accomplish your goals. Please remember this and remind each other often.”
Third-year student Sean Gadson, president of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association offered this advice: “Make sure you take time to take a breath, look around you, and enjoy vet school as you move through it. I know that we come here to develop medical skills, but I would argue if you all you do is study lectures and textbooks, then you have missed out on a large portion of the personal growth that vet school offers.”
Ceremony refreshments were generously provided by the Veterinary Insurance Services Company and the California Veterinary Medical Association.