Rutgers New Jersey Medical School welcomes new class with white coat ceremony

It’s worth your time to get to know Edwige Dossou-Kitti. The 27-year-old, who was born in the West African nation of Togo, is about to embark on a new journey that, when completed in a few years, will make her one of the people who could be caring for you or a loved one.

Dossou-Kitti is one of 178 new students who this week started their education at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School — taking part in the traditional “White Coat” ceremony that marks the start of the path toward becoming a medical doctor. Each recited the Hippocratic Oath, swearing to uphold the ethical standards of the healing profession.

“It’s the first day for the class of 2023,” said Dr. Robert Johnson, dean of the school in Newark. “It’s the day they graduate into medical school and when they get their white coats. When they get their white coat, they put on the symbol of medicine.”

The school had 5,000 applicants, interviewed 730 of them and winnowed that pool down to the 178 students, according to George Heinrich, associate dean of admissions. “They are all incredible,” he said.

And now the hard part begins. “Someone has to really, really want to do this,” said Johnson. “It’s four years of college, then four years of medical and then four years after that. They work very, very hard.”

The Rutgers applicants come from 20 different countries and speak 35 different languages. Nearly half, 49%, are female. The ceremony was an opportunity for some to reflect on the journey that led them to the moment.

Dossou-Kitti said she wanted to get into medicine after her mother had numerous strokes, nine in all. She’s the first woman in her family to pursue higher education.

“My culture is not one that actually allows women to get educated. My mom herself was never educated,” she said. “So growing up, it was never expected of us to go to school, stay in school.”

When she was 17, Dossu-Kitti’s father wanted her to enter into an arranged marriage, she said. She rebelled and was forced to leave home.

“When I refused to comply with what was expected of me I was told to leave and I have been on my own since the age of 17,” she added. “I want my journey to be an example that the cultural norms we have isn’t benefiting us.”

Her mother, Akouavi Gbedewai, was on hand for the ceremony.

“I say thank you for New Jersey,” she said with pride. “She is going to be a good doctor.”

Beth Al Kik, 31, said she struggled through high school and dropped out before getting her diploma through a dual-enrollment, home-school program.

“I worked as a firefighter/paramedic until I gained the life skill and experience to say, ‘I can do this, I can really follow my dream and go into medicine.’”

Antoine Saint Victor, 25, said his dream of becoming a doctor would have been impossible but for the sacrifices of his mother. For him the white coat is more than just a piece of clothing.

“When I was young, my mom worked at University Hospital, she also worked at Beth Israel hospital, and when I was younger she was worked at East Orange General on the weekends,” he said. “All the sacrifices, all the work, this white coat ceremony is a symbol of that, kind of like the door is finally opening,” he said.

All three students were asked what excited them most about beginning their medical school education. They all had the same answer — that someday they would be able to add the title of “doctor” to each of their names.