The Sidney Kimmel Medical College Class of 2026 receive their white coats.
Chosen from a “staggering” application pool of 11,090 people, the Sidney Kimmel Medical College Class of 2026 ceremoniously donned their white coats for the first time in front of loved ones and faculty.
“You are a very select group indeed,” University President Dr. Mark L. Tykocinski told the 274 med students at the celebratory July 22 event at Philadelphia’s Crystal Tea Room.
Over the next four years, students will learn how to diagnose and treat patients with a focus on knowledge-based competencies and the nuts and bolts of medical practice, Dr. Tykocinski says. However, he also stressed the importance of becoming a well-rounded healthcare provider during their time at Jefferson, a theme shared by many of the speakers.
“We, your teachers, are just as interested in cultivating your human qualities,” Dr. Tykocinski says. “Independent thinking and openness to diversity of thought are among them. It is opening your souls and minds to others that will carry you to be first-rate healers of patients, but as important, healers of society.”
The Class of 2026 hails from 27 states and 10 countries and received their undergraduate and graduate degrees from 107 institutions. Among them: Perry Goodman worked at NASA for the Mars 2020 mission while receiving his mechanical engineering degree from Cornell; Samantha Kolowrat competed in the Winter Olympics for the Czech Republic ice hockey team; and Logan Stugart, a vocalist and pianist, earned the most outstanding music student honor at Roanoke College.
Olivia Ackley studied biology as an undergraduate at Juniata College and worked as an EMT in her college town and hometown of Clearville, Pa. (population, a touch over 2,000).
“Even if I’m with someone for just 15 minutes in an ambulance, I can make a difference in their lives,” she shares. “I knew this was a path I had to continue on.”
The Physician Shortage Area Program drew Ackley to Jefferson. This admissions and educational program increases the supply and retention of physicians in rural regions and small towns.
“The need for emergency medicine in rural areas is immense,” she says. “We don’t have a lot of healthcare options where I live, so minor things can snowball into an emergency.”
Along with an interest in rural medicine, Ackley is an avid glider pilot. She grew up living on an airport, and her father and grandfather are pilots. Ackley took her first solo flight at age 14 and says “flying low and slow over the farmland and animals” in her 1946 Yellow Piper Cub helps her to decompress.
Flying also allows her to practice her bedside manner, an unconventional idea that became her med school personal statement.
Zipping around in a tiny plane can be a scary experience for many rookie passengers, so she takes this time to hone in on communication and verbal and non-verbal cues—some of the many skills she plans to grow at Jefferson.
“I feel immense support from this community,” Ackley says. “I can’t wait to take everything in for the next four years.”
Kevin Carolina, too, beams with excitement as his family helps him slip on his white coat during the ceremony. His mom played a crucial role in his early interest in health care.
As a nurse, she inspired Carolina with her desire to keep people healthy. She frequently asks the grocery store cashiers if they received their flu shot and takes coworkers for their first health screenings.
Until his sophomore year of high school, Carolina wanted to be a nurse as well, but his career trajectory changed after he read a troubling study.
“One statistic still resonates with me,” Carolina says. “There were more Black men applying to medical school in 1978 than in 2014. The lack of Black men in medicine will ultimately lead to negative health outcomes for the Black community. It was at that point that I decided to pursue a career in medicine.”
He went to Rutgers for public health, and while there, he co-founded and served as president of Minority Men in Medicine. The organization provided an academic and social support network to grow the number of underrepresented men matriculating to med school from the university.
“The journey to becoming a physician is long and challenging, especially when you don’t have that support group around you,” Carolina says. “We believed that minority men pursuing the pre-med path had unique academic and social needs. Our organization sought to meet those needs.”
During the pandemic, Carolina led the efforts to keep the members engaged through social media and other virtual experiences. He and his co-founders hosted a virtual lecture series, where physicians of color from various specialties shared their experiences and words of wisdom.
Carolina knew Jefferson would be a strong fit after learning about the JeffMD Curriculum, in particular, its emphasis on the social determinants of health and humanities selectives. He also loved Jefferson’s attention to the health and wellness of its medical students, a stressful time for many.
To this end, Carolina has found sewing bow ties—a skill he learned from his grandmother—to be the perfect relaxing hobby for a chaotic life. In fact, at the White Coat Ceremony, he wore one of his handcrafted designs—a likely conversation piece as he begins his mission to connect with and help those in need.
“I not only desire to be a physician who practices in an underserved community but one who takes an active role within the community,” says Carolina, noting the history of mistrust in the Black community for the medical establishment. “I can’t wait to start.”
Classmate Mallika Kodavatiganti shares Carolina’s enthusiasm and also sees a future in making health care a more inclusive environment for underserved communities. As a biology undergraduate at Drexel University, she participated in the school’s literary arts program, Writers Room, helping senior citizens in West Philly share their stories.
“It taught me a lot about gentrification and displacement and how it’s affecting the cultures of our city,” Kodavatiganti explains. “It made me more mindful of the impact we have on the community and how I can better engage with the people I work with. There’s so much value in listening to other people’s stories.”
As an undergraduate, the Hershey, Pa., native also taught the violin to preschoolers through Art Sphere Inc. Kodavatiganti, a violinist since second grade, relished the opportunity to share underappreciated pieces by Black musicians.
“I could show them that there are people who look like them who perform classical music,” she says. “They were so happy. It really meant a lot to me.”
Kodavatiganti knew Jefferson—the first med school she visited—would be the right choice when she stepped on campus during an open house.
She felt an instant connection with the University culture and the students she met. “Everyone was so genuinely happy and cared about the community,” Kodavatiganti says.
In his White Coat Ceremony remarks, Dr. Charles Pohl—vice dean for student affairs and career counseling at Sidney Kimmel Medical College—urged students to focus on building relationships and trust and delivering care with a human touch.
“You must advocate for those without a voice and not be afraid to do the right thing,” he says, noting how each student received a Narcan kit, a medication to reverse an opioid overdose.
During the two-hour event, students recited the Maimonides Prayer for the Physician and the Hippocratic Oath. They also received encouragement and advice from Kayla Holston, Sidney Kimmel Medical College chapter president of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, and Jefferson faculty and leaders.
With her keynote address, Dr. Stavropoula Tjoumakaris, Class of 2003 alumna and vice chair of neurosurgery education, emphasized that students should treat patients as a whole and consider the feelings of their loved ones.
“To be a complete physician, one needs to be more than a doctor who diagnoses and treats disease,” she says. “One needs to be a healer who communicates, connects, alleviates distress and anguish, provides insight and comforts pain.”
See all the sights from the White Coat Ceremony in the photo slideshow below.