A Step Forward for Aspiring Physicians—and a Familiar Setting for Some

New students at the January 2018 SGUSOM White Coat Ceremony.

More than three decades since earning their own medical degrees at St. George’s University, Matthew Coppola, MD SGU ’84, and his wife Carmela Coppola (née Carpanzano), MD SGU ’84, proudly sat in attendance as their son, Matt, took his first step into the medical profession at the Spring 2018 School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony.

“Almost 40 years ago, I met my wife in the mailroom at SGU,” said Dr. Coppola, an internal medicine specialist in Pittsburgh, PA. “Six kids later, my son, Matt, is literally following in our footsteps and hopefully will take over my practice one day.”

The 2022 Grenada class joined its fellow students from SGU’s Keith B. Taylor Global Scholars Program, who began their journey two weeks earlier at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. All together, this spring’s incoming SOM class welcomes aspiring physicians from 39 US states, Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and 20 countries.

The Coppolas expect to make more frequent visits to the Spice Isle. In addition to Matt’s entry into the SOM program, the Coppolas’ daughter, Maria, has hopes of attending SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine in the near future. Carmela Coppola, who practices neonatology in Pittsburgh, had been back several times in the late 1980s and helped out at Grenada’s General Hospital. A few years ago, the entire family visited the island, and Matt and Maria got a firsthand look at the SGU experience by visiting the 2015 Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy.

Also, returning to SGU was the evening’s master of ceremonies, Donielle Sliwa, MD/MPH SGU ’12, Chief Fellow in Hematology and Oncology at Baystate Medical Center/Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts. Having sat in those same seats and made the same commitment at her own White Coat Ceremony 10 years prior, Dr. Sliwa knew exactly how the incoming class felt.

“At my White Coat Ceremony, I felt a great sense of pride in my decision to become a physician and an eagerness to contribute meaningfully to the rapidly changing landscape of health care,” said Dr. Sliwa. “SGU will now give you the tools and support you need to be successful in medical school, but in the end, your true success will come from your passion to fulfill your dream, your willingness to ask for help, your humility in expressing gratitude, and your perseverance when times get tough.”

Dr. Lee Miller

Dr. Lee Miller, Professor of Pediatrics and the Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was the evening’s keynote speaker. Addressing the future doctors, he shared five take-home messages centered on impact, exploration, balance, privilege, and pride.

“Don’t ever take for granted the amazing impact you will have in the lives of others. Explore as many arenas as possible to create your own recipe. Maintain balance to build resiliency and to keep yourself whole. And always remember what a privilege it is to wear that white coat and know how proud we are of you today.”

St. George’s University held a moment of silence to acknowledge the passing of Dr. Arnold P. Gold, who passed away on January 23 at the age of 92. A master diagnostician, Dr. Gold became an international leader and advocate for humanism in health care. Through his foundation, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, SGU established the White Coat Ceremony beginning in 1996, and welcomed both Dr. Gold and his wife, Sandra, to deliver the ceremony’s keynote address in 2005. In 2009, his foundation inspired SGU’s chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, through which preclinical students can engage in service activities for their communities.

In addition to serving as a rite of passage for aspiring physicians, the School of Medicine White Coat Ceremonies coincide with a weekend of activities that help make up Beyond Spice Family Weekend. The University’s bi-annual event welcomes students and family members to soak up nature and culture in Grenada.