The Sidney Kimmel Medical College Class of 2027 sets off in a special ceremony.
Years ago, identical twins Steven and Michael Chang went clothes shopping with their mom at a nearby Marshalls. They set out separately and returned soon after—almost intuitively—with the exact same outfits.
“That’s the theme throughout our lives,” laughs Michael, the younger brother by 3 minutes. “Even though we make individual decisions, we’re super, super similar, and we take advantage of the similarities.”
The pair attended Drexel for undergrad, and like always, they used each other for moral support and inspiration. Here, Steven and Michael completed co-ops at Jefferson, an opportunity that introduced them to the vast needs of underserved communities. They then both earned their master of public health from Dartmouth and will continue at Sidney Kimmel Medical College together.
“This will serve as the foundation to pursue my dream job of being a physician,” Steven says.
Along with 272 fellow students, the brothers donned their white coats for the first time at Philadelphia’s Crystal Tea Room on July 21. The joyous ceremony in front of family, friends and faculty marks the official start of the Class of 2027’s medical school journey.
The most diverse Sidney Kimmel Medical College class in school history, the students hailed from 30 states and a record 12 countries outside the United States, says Dr. Mark Tykocinski, former Jefferson president. Their ranks include athletes, musicians, singers, researchers, a registered dietician, a Fulbright Scholar, a former college mascot and a student who lived with monks.
“Today marks a significant milestone in your lives,” says Dr. Tykocinski, the outgoing Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean of Sidney Kimmel Medical College, who’s responsible for many advancements in medical education and research at Jefferson. “Each of you has aspired to this day and has duly earned it, leveraging innate talents and unswerving diligence to secure a highly coveted position in our nation’s fifth medical school.”
Born in Cuba, student Liz Leyva Vera moved to Florida at 18, the culmination of a five-year immigration journey. Her grandparents—both physicians—served as powerful role models growing up. Later in life, her paternal grandfather switched careers from a farmer to an internal medicine doctor. Leyva Vera tagged along as he made free house calls to help the sick and injured in their neighborhood.
“He taught me the heart of the profession, which is serving people,” she says.
As an undergrad studying biology with a concentration in biotechnology, Leyva Vera visited Philadelphia for the first time and immediately fell in love with the area, especially around Jefferson’s Center City Campus. People bustling about town wearing scrubs and white coats literally led her to the front desk of Sidney Kimmel Medical College where she asked for more information.
Now as a student, Leyva Vera is prepared for the work and sacrifice required, a dedication she learned after years of playing and teaching the saxophone.
“You’ve got to give everything you have,” Leyva Vera says. “It requires practice every day. When you’re in music, you’re making a lifetime commitment. I feel the same way about medicine. It’s forever.”
Classmate Mojisola Obayanju developed a passion for medicine—and neurology, in particular—as a cell biology and neuroscience undergraduate at Rutgers. In her general bio class, she enjoyed learning about neuropsychology and addiction, and being a transport EMT, she regularly aided senior citizens, exposing her to those with Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s.
She set her sights on Jefferson after hearing positive words about the school through Rutgers’ Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences and learning more about the renowned Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience.
Obayanju’s parents, a nurse and nurse practitioner born in Nigeria, were among the many loved ones in the Crystal Tea Room crowd. Her sister, Bella, assisted Obayanju with ceremoniously putting on her white coat for the first time.
Along with the symbolic coating, the Class of 2027 recited the Maimonides Prayer for the Physician and Hippocratic Oath and received a Narcan kit, showing they have the power to save lives from day one. They also heard words of encouragement from University leadership, faculty, alumni and fellow students.
“Make no mistake, our world needs you more than ever,” says Jefferson CEO Dr. Joseph Cacchione. “By putting on that white coat today, you are embarking on a path of dedication, sacrifice and purpose. It’s not just a job or vocation—it’s a calling.”
The white coat represents knowledge, expertise and, importantly, the “sacred trust patients place in you,” says Dr. Cacchione, who urged students to have a sense of humility.
“It will allow you to listen to patients better, and it will allow you to get feedback from your colleagues,” he says. “Listening is core to medicine.”
Dr. Charles Pohl—senior vice provost for student affairs and Sidney Kimmel Medical College vice dean of student affairs and career counseling—stressed the importance of relationships, trust and human connection. “Every patient encounter allows you to impact their life and make them feel better,” he says.
In the White Coat Ceremony keynote, Dr. John Lauriello told students to expect to work hard and be overwhelmed at times.
“You may even feel that Jefferson made an awful mistake choosing you,” says the Daniel Lieberman Professor and chair of psychiatry and human behavior. “But trust me: They didn’t make a mistake. You belong here.”
Dr. Lauriello recommended students lean into each other for strength and support, and he acknowledged a bit of envy toward the Class of 2027.
“You’re starting out at such an amazing time in medicine,” he says. “During your career, you will see unprecedented advances—even cures, along with financial, ethical and healthcare challenges,” he says. “I know you are up for it.”
See more scenes from the White Coat Ceremony below.