Incoming physician assistant students at the UTMB received their white coats in a ceremony that welcomed them into their new program of professional study.

During the Aug. 2 rite of passage, 83 members of the class of 2015 donned their white coats for the first time.

“The ceremony symbolically marks the beginning of a person’s career as a health care professional,” said Elizabeth Protas, dean of UTMB’s School of Health Professions. “It’s a significant milestone on their path to a very important role in the new health care landscape.”

Dr. Robert Beach, Professor Emeritus of medicine, was the keynote speaker for the event. He urged the students to listen with their hearts as well as their ears, and to commit to providing personal and compassionate care of their patients.

Dr. Danny O. Jacobs, executive vice president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, cloaked each student with a white coat.

At the closing of the ceremony, the students recited the PA professional oath, publicly acknowledging their new responsibilities and affirming their pledge to clinical excellence and health care.

The ceremony is a relatively new tradition in the health care professions. The first white coat ceremony was held in 1993 at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. The tradition was soon adopted by allied health professionals including physician assistants, physical therapists, dentists, optometrists and veterinarians. UTMB began holding white coat ceremonies in 1996.

UTMB’s department of physician assistant studies offers a master’s degree program that prepares professionals to practice medicine, with the supervision of a physician, in a wide range of settings, including primary care, specialty clinics, the emergency department and the operating room.

PAs are invaluable members of the health care team who conduct medical histories and physical examinations, order and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat health conditions, perform procedures and provide patient education and counseling services. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medications.