Published on October 14, 2022 by Frank Ruggiero  
White Coat Dean Group
Per tradition, McWhorter School of Pharmacy dean Michael Crouch poses for a selfie with the newly coated first-year pharmacy students.

White coats, bright futures.

Samford University’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy honored 92 first-year students in the Class of 2026 during its annual White Coat Ceremony, held Oct. 7 in Birmingham, Alabama.

The ceremony represents the first of many steps to becoming a licensed pharmacist, as students are presented with their pharmacists’ white coats by the dean and a pharmacist, faculty member or pharmacy student of their choice.

Coaters included numerous alumni, as well as family members, employers and other professional and student mentors.  

“The white coat has humble beginnings as a protective garment in caring for patients or when working in a lab, but now it’s undoubtedly an emblem of health care,” said Michael Crouch, dean of McWhorter School of Pharmacy. “To some, the white coat symbolizes knowledge, skills and abilities. To others, it’s a symbol of purity and healing. But to me, most importantly, it’s a symbol of professionalism and trust.”

Crouch told students that the moment they slip on their coats, they’re forging a covenant with the patients they’ll serve.

Contrary to the practice of many other pharmacy schools, he explained, Samford Pharmacy foregoes a ceremony during orientation week, instead hosting it in October—American Pharmacists Month.

“During this month, we educate patients, the public, policymakers and other health care professionals about the full scope of practice of pharmacists and the vital role the pharmacist plays as an integral member of the health care team,” Crouch said.

Furthermore, by waiting until October, students are afforded an opportunity to reflect on their chosen profession.

“Students discuss their personal and professional identity and how the white coat contributes to that identity,” Crouch said. “As you can see, this is much, much more than a simple, white coat.”

The coat is also representative of commitment, a sentiment emphasized by the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Anne Marie Nolen, Pharm.D. ’18, M.P.H. ’18.

“Putting on your white coat this afternoon … may seem like a small act to you, but it represents a big commitment to a profession of lifelong learning and lifelong service,” said Nolen, who serves as collaborative practice manager for the Alabama Board of Pharmacy.

Yet it’s also a privilege, she added, inexorably tied to the responsibilities that come with it.

“What a privilege it is to be able to make a difference in people’s lives … to advocate for those patients who need us at their lowest moments in their health,” Nolen said. “What a privilege it is to be a part of the profession that was paramount to beating COVID-19, a profession that not only joined that fight, but led that fight. And what a privilege it is to have a coat to symbolize the fulfillment of a dream you’ve spent years working toward.”

Nolen and Crouch thanked all those in attendance, including family, friends, faculty, staff and sponsors.

As in 2021, McWhorter School of Pharmacy asked its alumni and friends to sponsor a white coat by making a financial gift to cover the cost of a student’s coat and contribute to student scholarships. When students arrived at the ceremony, they received a note from the individual who sponsored their coat, offering words of encouragement and congratulations.

“None of us made it here alone,” Nolen said. “We’ve all had special someones who’ve led us to this moment today; someone who introduced you to this profession, to this dream; someone who was impressed by you enough to write a letter of recommendation; someone who was honest and told you the truth, even when it may have been hard to hear; and someone who believed in you, and because they believed in you, you began to believe in yourself, too.”

Watch the ceremony

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.