In Dallas, Baylor nursing’s white coat ceremony looks a little different in the COVID-19 era

Nursing students attend their White Coat Ceremony on Oct. 13 as they transition from full-time students to practitioners. Photo courtesy Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing.

By Mallory Harris | Reporter

In the past decade, white coat ceremonies for nursing students have become a tradition throughout the nation. Symbolizing the passing of their first labs of nursing school and being prepared to interact with real patients, Baylor’s nursing students received their white coats on Oct. 13.

Being one of the first steps in their nursing career, many nursing students found excitement leading up to the ceremony. Highlands Ranch, Colo., junior Sarah Yingling said that the white coat is an important symbol of not only the profession, but also of the readiness she has in moving forward with the nursing program.

After receiving their white coat, students are able to move into clinicals where they can work with real patients rather than mannequins or dummies. Yingling explained how nurse to patient interaction is something she’s been looking forward to for two years.

“It’s really exciting to get to go out and have that patient experience because that’s something… all of us have been looking forward to for a very long time,” Yingling said. “We’re all in nursing school for that experience — for that patient interaction — and so to finally have that is really exciting. Even though it’s a little different in this time of COVID, we still get to have that.”

Planning the ceremony in regard to safety guidelines allowed for Dr. Karen Cotter, associate dean for pre-licensure programs, to think outside the box. In focusing on the meaning of the coat, Cotter explained how the limited seating and lack of traditions were hard decisions to make.

Historically, faculty will “cloak” the students in their new coats displaying the guidance and push into the profession, Cotter explained. With comments from the dean, prayer and their pledge to the profession, the ceremony was still a moment for the students to celebrate their achievement.

“It took a fair amount of planning, but mostly it was letting go of what’s traditional for white coat ceremony and being OK with it being different,” Cotter said. “In just these several months, we’ve been learning to do things differently and learning to try to maintain tradition, but balance that with protecting the safety and health of our students is our priority.”

From being a pre-nursing major at the Waco campus, then transitioning into study at the Dallas campus, Cotter explained that teaching students to speak up for themselves and think critically are the largest adaptions that students go through.

Mesa, Ariz., junior Sarah Kenney said that those first six weeks between getting into the school and going through the first round of labs was difficult. Knowing she wanted to go into a profession that was service-oriented, Kenney explained how the ceremony was satisfying seeing her hard work pay off.

“It’s really exciting, but it’s also kind of scary because you’re like ‘wow, I’m actually going to go treat real patients now,’” Kenney said.

By being a Christian-based program, Cotter explained how providing spiritual and psychological care along with physical care is a unique feature that sets Baylor’s nursing program apart from others. As well as providing 111 years of quality education, LHSON has had impressive scores from the NCLEX, the licensure exam for nursing students, with scores from 2020 being around 95.93%, Cotter said. While the white coat ceremony stands at the beginning of their nursing career, it displays the dedication the students have to their profession.

“[The white coats show] they are ready to go outside the doors of our school and go inside the doors of the hospital and provide care,” Cotter said. “It’s us blessing them to say ‘you are ready. Now go forth and learn, lead and serve and take care of these patients.”