As a first-year student at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD), Brianna Thewsuvat was eager for Aug. 11, 2021, to arrive — the date of new student orientation at the school on the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) campus. In-person orientation.
“To finally have some in-person interaction and not be seeing people on a computer screen — honestly, I feel really, really happy,” said Thewsuvat, donning graphite scrubs, the uniform of incoming dental students. “I do much better with the learning styles of in-person learning, and especially as a commuter student, I look forward to making new friends. I was so glad when I learned we wouldn’t be going virtual.”
Thewsuvat, who lives in Owings Mills, Md., was one of 130 masked students occupying every other seat of the school’s auditorium to keep with physical distancing protocols. Throughout the day, students met each other, faculty, and staff, and learned about the roles of the offices of academic and student affairs and other information as they embarked on their four-year program.
“We’ve had quite a year, haven’t we?” said Judy Porter, DDS, MA, EdD, associate dean for admissions and recruitment, as she began the orientation session. “COVID has affected us all, in a lot of different ways. The isolation has affected us. But you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to get through this together. We’re going to remember self-care. We’re going to make friends. Watch for people who need help. Build community. I think this is the great challenge of our generation right now — to build community because we are so tied to technology. Help us build the best UMB.”
Student Sydney Goertzen echoed her classmate Thewsuvat’s eagerness to begin her higher education journey in a non-virtual setting.
“It is so good to see everyone,” she said. “I’m glad we’re in person.”
As the fall semester got underway, scenes like this played out at all of UMB’s seven schools after the COVID-19 pandemic forced months of virtual learning.
Students returned to the classroom, albeit with masks and other precautions such as physical distancing. Others received their white coats — some after a year’s wait. And UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, and University leadership greeted and mingled with students from all the schools outdoors at various Back to Campus events in September.
Two Classes Receive White Coats
For the first time in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s (UMSOP) history of hosting white coat ceremonies for its Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students, two entire classes received their coats on Oct. 1. First-year PharmD students in the Class of 2025 and second-year students in the Class of 2024 — who missed their ceremony in fall 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic — walked across the stage in UMB’s Leadership Hall to receive their white coats. The white coats are a symbol of the health care professions, and receiving them is a decades-old rite of passage for pharmacy students across the country.
Natalie D. Eddington, PhD, FAAPS, FCP, dean and professor, UMSOP, reminded the students about the important role that pharmacists play as an integral — and often the most accessible — member of a patient’s health care team.
“As a medication expert, a pharmacist provides valuable information on pharmacotherapy, drug-drug interactions, and potentially dangerous side effects,” she said. “Pharmacists are directly involved in patient care through chronic disease management — where they sit down with their patients to educate them about their disease, help them understand their medications, and ensure adherence to their therapy — and by administering life-saving immunizations, as demonstrated by their heroic efforts delivering COVID-19 vaccines this year.”
Emma Wehrman, president of UMSOP’s Class of 2024, reflected on the long wait for the white coat ceremony.
“As current second-year students, we started pharmacy school in the middle of the pandemic when we were all virtual,” she said. “To be able to finally receive our white coats is so exciting. The coat symbolizes professionalism and makes me feel that I am doing good in the world. A patient will see me in a white coat and know that they can ask me any question and I will have the answer for them.”
A New Role as a Professional Student
At the UMSOD orientation, Patricia E. Meehan, DDS, associate dean of academic affairs, expressed what many around the UMB campus have felt.
“It is just a pleasure to have all of you guys here in person,” Meehan said. “We’ll look forward to when you get your headshots done, so we can look at the composites and actually see your beautiful smiles.”
Students were welcomed by Jarrell, who said he was delighted to be greeting students in person. “It’s a pleasure to be here,” he said.
Jarrell encouraged students to put their college days behind them and focus on what it means to be a student at one of UMB’s six professional schools.
“You’re about to shed your college mantle. Whatever you did in college, that’s fine. But what you do here is very different,” he told UMSOD’s Class of 2025. “You are no longer a college student, you are now a professional student, about to become a professional. And when you become a professional, that means things are very different. You will be a source of knowledge. People will look up to you. I know that’s hard to believe today. But that will happen. They’ll say, ‘What do you think?’ Your opinion will be important.”
Partnering with the West Baltimore Community
In addition to welcoming students to UMB, Jarrell welcomed them to Baltimore and emphasized the important role the University plays in its partnerships with West Baltimore neighborhoods on the other side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“They’re our neighbors, we’re their partners,” he said, urging students to get involved in activities at UMB’s new and expanded Community Engagement Center. “We’re there to help the community in whatever ways they need. Dental care is one of them, but you offer more than dental care.”
UMB’s core values are important to each student’s success, Jarrell added.
“I look forward to your graduation in four years. I certainly look forward to how you’re going to make me proud. So, congratulations on being here. And have a good year this year. Maybe it’s going to be different than last year,” he said, glancing over to Porter, who raised her hands, fingers crossed.
Becky Ceraul, assistant dean of communications and marketing at the School of Pharmacy, contributed to this story.