It is a mid-May tradition for the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine (UNR Med) to celebrate its class of graduating medical students with a moving ceremony at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the landmark Reno venue is temporarily closed and social distancing directives are still in place.
So this year’s moving ceremony…moved online. Instead of gathering together at the Pioneer Center, UNR Med’s graduating medical school class gathered with loved ones around their mobile phones, TVs, laptops and screens to participate in a virtual commencement ceremony.
The live-streamed ceremony, which is available for viewing on-demand, is UNR Med’s first-ever virtual hooding ceremony, celebrating the 63 graduating, fourth-year medical students of the Class of 2020. Northern Nevada’s newest physicians officially entered their new profession, all while scattered across the U.S.
The School of Medicine’s hooding ceremony is the only spring 2020 commencement ceremony to take place at the University of Nevada, Reno, with all other graduation ceremonies being rescheduled due to COVID-19. Rescheduling medical school hooding was not an option, as medical school graduates will immediately begin residencies throughout Nevada and the nation.
With graduating medical students stepping into their roles at a most vital time, UNR Med Dean, Thomas L. Schwenk, M.D., spoke about the challenges facing today’s medical school graduates as a result of the pandemic, thanked students for their dedication, and encouraged them as they take the next step in their careers as physicians.
“On your first day of medical school, none of us could have imagined how unusual this graduation day would become,” said Schwenk. “Many of you agreed to step up to the front lines and join the community response to COVID-19. Your commitment to this cause, especially your skills, capacity to adapt, and compassion have helped care for our community during a time when they have needed you the most,” he said.
Despite the unconventional nature of the ceremony, graduating medical student and UNR Med’s Class of 2020 President Misha Fotoohi, M.D. ’20, said the virtual ceremony was the next best thing to being at an in-person ceremony.
“It’s not the medical school graduation day I expected, but UNR Med did an excellent job making it special,” Fotoohi said. “The virtual ceremony achieved the same goals that our original graduation would have, in terms of bringing everyone together and honoring all of us who are graduating. I missed my family and friends being there with me in-person, but more of my family watched the virtual ceremony than would have attended, so they all had front row seats and we FaceTimed to celebrate. The pandemic doesn’t get to take away one of our proudest moments.”
The hooding ceremony marks the completion of undergraduate medical education for medical students, who now enter residency training. The hooding ceremony, symbolic of passing the guard from one generation of doctors to the next, recognizes those graduating students with M.D. degrees. The students received their academic hoods in advance of the ceremony and recorded themselves being hooded. UNR Med edited the videos together to be viewed by the graduates, their families and loved ones.
University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson, Ph.D., conferred the students’ Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degrees, and graduates recited the Physician’s Oath together, in real-time. With the oath, graduates affirmed their commitment to the medical profession and acknowledged the high standards of performance and ethical behavior to which each physician aspires at every stage of their professional career.
This year’s UNR Med commencement speaker was Patrice Harris, M.D., M.A., president of the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. Harris, a distinguished psychiatrist from Atlanta, Georgia, became the 174th president of the AMA in June 2019, and the first African American woman to hold this position. She has a diverse body of experience as a private practicing physician, public health administrator, patient advocate and medical society lobbyist.
Harris spoke to graduates about how the promotion of diversity in the medical workforce will contribute to better health equity and care, as well as during the COVID-19 pandemic climate. She spoke of the new challenges these new doctors will face, and offered advice for the universal implications in their future residency training.
“You are an inspiration because you are the best kind of over-achievers – those with a profound sense of service and a deep commitment to eradicating inequities in health care,” said Harris.
“The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on people of color, those with few resources and those with no or inadequate health insurance,” Harris said to the graduates. “It places special importance on your dedication to address health inequities. We are enormously proud of each and every one of you and are confident that you’ll make a huge difference in the lives of your patients and communities.”
Graduating medical student Tarra Becher said she couldn’t be more excited to begin her medical career here in Reno. “I chose to stay in Reno because the faculty at UNR Med has always gone above and beyond to provide a phenomenal medical education. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to stay in Reno and complete my psychiatry residency. Growing up here and now having two children of my own, there is nowhere else I would rather be. I am excited to begin my residency program and to continue serving this community that means so much to me,” said Becher.
Established in 1969, the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada’s first public medical school has educated more than 3,500 students, residents and fellows.