UW School of Dentistry

Third-year students mark debut as clinicians

Class president Eric Olendorf puts on his new clinical coat.

Class president Eric Olendorf puts on his new clinical coat.


Dr. John Wataha

The School of Dentistry held its eighth annual White Coat ceremony on Aug. 11 at the UW Health Sciences Center, with members of the Class of 2014 formally donning clinical coats to mark the next phase of their education.

The ceremony, sponsored by the Dental Alumni Association since 2005, included the second cohort of students in the international DDS program. In this program, licensed foreign dentists undertake intensive course work in the spring, then join the third-year class to obtain a U.S. dental degree.

Urging students to see what they do in clinic through the eyes of a patient, Interim Dean Tim DeRouen told them they had a duty as health care providers to maintain a high level of professionalism and ethics.

“Those white coats you’ll put on today are a sign of what you’ve already achieved. But more importantly, they should remind you of what’s expected in the rest of your time here at the School of Dentistry, and in the world of practice. You should wear those coats with pride – and with an equal sense of obligation,” he said.

Dr. John Wataha, Chair of Restorative Dentistry, was selected by students to give the keynote speech, in which he recalled his adventures when just starting out in practice in the 1970s. He described a different era, one preceding light-cured composites and reliable all-ceramic crowns or implants.

Dr. Wataha also recounted a few misadventures as he learned sometimes-painful lessons in dental practice. “The first prescription I wrote was to a drug-seeker. The pharmacist called me, and it was embarrassing,” he said. He also retold the breakup of his practice partnership, and from his experience drew several important pieces of advice for students.

“Clinical challenges provide an opportunity to learn,” he said, adding that students should identify their own limits and know what is best for the patient.

“You are human and you will make mistakes,” he warned. “The danger is when you ignore the lessons these errors teach.”

He also urged students to learn from – and never put themselves above – their patients, and concluded: “You’re going to be given a chance to make a difference in the lives of your patients. Think about what a marvelous gift that is.”

After donning their coats, the students signed a formal pledge to:

  • Conduct themselves with integrity by upholding and promoting ethical ideals and standards.
  • Demonstrate compassion, empathy, and understanding for patients and colleagues.
  • Aspire to leadership through initiative and professional conduct.
  • Maintain a high level of competence through their commitment to learning.

Also speaking briefly at the ceremony were Dr. Joel Berg, the School’s incoming Dean, and Dr. Mark Drangsholt (’84), Chair of Oral Medicine, who represented the Dental Alumni Association.