UW School of Dentistry

Class of 2016 marks start of careers as clinicians

Sixty-seven members of the Class of 2016, including five in the International DDS program, received their official clinical coats on Saturday in the School of Dentistry’s 10th annual White Coat Ceremony.

The event, held before the start of their third year in school, signifies the students’ taking on the role of clinician during their last two years of pre-doctoral training. It is sponsored by the UW Dental Alumni Association.

Dr. WatahaKeynote speaker Dr. John Wataha, Associate Dean for Information Management and Quality Improvement, imparted four key lessons to the students. He framed his ethics-laden message against the experiences of his late father, an accountant and small-town Wyoming mayor.

“In clinic, you learn a lot about people, and you have to be careful not to judge them too quickly,” he said. Dr. Wataha recalled how allegations of lawlessness and corruption led to his father being interviewed on the 60 Minutes television program, along with investigations by the IRS, the FBI and state authorities.

None of the charges were ever substantiated and no prosecutions ever resulted, but the whole business led to painfully fractured relationships between his father and townspeople who had lodged accusations, with trust irreparably broken.

“From my father, I learned the importance of friendship and trust,” Dr. Wataha said. “Your job is to facilitate help, not judge. You have to look out for your patients’ best interests.”

Nathan Bushman
With help from Dr. Ricardo Schwedhelm, Nathan Bushman dons his clinical coat.

Dr. Wataha also urged students to learn from their inevitable errors and conduct honest self-evaluations. He added: “Avoid the pitfall of convincing yourself that the most expensive treatment is the best thing for the patient.”

“Time and life are short,” he said. “Be a good person and clinician, starting today. You might not get a chance tomorrow. … You are being given a chance to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s a marvelous gift.”

Dean Joel Berg welcomed families and friends of the students to the ceremony. He told students that they’d be in for many surprises in the next two years and well beyond and urged them, “Don’t ever think you’ve seen it all or done it all. Don’t ever lose that capacity to be surprised. And when that surprise jumps out at you, don’t waste it. Use it as a learning moment.”

Class President Christine Melch led the students in reciting the traditional pledge of excellence, integrity and empathy.