First-year UF College of Pharmacy students don white coats at annual White Coat Ceremony

By Tyler Francischine

With a shimmy of their shoulders, the 214 members of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy class of 2027 reached closer to their dreams of building fulfilling careers in pharmacy during the annual White Coat Ceremony on April 7.

The UF College of Pharmacy first-year class, comprised of 120 students from Gainesville, 68 from Orlando and 26 from Jacksonville, processed into the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to the fanfare of camera flashes and excited shouts, grins and waves from loved ones. One by one, their names were announced, and the students took their places at center stage to don their pharmacy white coats for the first time.

For Osama Jaber, a first-year pharmacy student at the Orlando campus, the occasion marked a moment of recognition for all of the work he and his classmates have completed so far. The ceremony also contained a deep, personal meaning for him, as it served as a long-awaited family reunion.

First-year UF pharmacy student Osama Jaber, second from the left, celebrated his achievement with family

“My classmates and I have put in countless hours and worked very hard to get to this moment. We’ve been running around from class to class and haven’t had a chance to think about all that we have achieved yet. It’s nice to feel validated and that we earned something,” Jaber said. “I haven’t seen my parents in a couple years, and they were finally able to come to America from Syria for the first time to attend this event. Having them here means so much. They had to miss my [undergraduate] graduation ceremony at UCF, so this is a huge moment for both them and for me. If you told me I would be here in this moment a year ago, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

The White Coat Ceremony began with a welcome address from Peter W. Swaan, Ph.D., M.Pharm., UF College of Pharmacy dean and professor, and it also featured a keynote speech from Lakesha Butler, Pharm.D., a clinical professor of pharmacotherapy and translational research in the UF College of Pharmacy. Butler offered the students a variety of best practices to employ as they continue their rigorous pharmacy training. She recommended students lean on their support systems during times of adversity, as well as practice self-care techniques like journaling, practicing gratitude and talking with a trusted mental health practitioner.

“You and your support system should be so proud of what you’ve achieved so far. I remember being in your shoes,” Butler told the students. “It’s vital to surround yourself with people who see you in ways you don’t see yourself. They can offer you validation and support.”

These were words that resonated with Mariam Olabuntu, a first-year pharmacy student at the Jacksonville campus, who remarked on just how far she and her classmates have come since beginning their studies last fall.

“I was thinking about when I started my coursework. It was so rigorous, I was on the verge of giving up, but my classmates and I all just supported each other. I would tell myself, ‘Today is a new day. I’m going to take it one day at a time,’” Olabuntu said. “So, today feels like a moment that rewards us for the trying times, for all the times we persevered. Today tells us to keep going. I’m so honored to be here.”

After the final student donned their coat, representatives from each campus took to the podium to read the Class of 2027 creed, a statement of intent and commitment that serves to guide the students throughout their schooling and beyond. Wayland Arthur, a first-year student at the Gainesville campus, said he’ll keep his commitment to serving patients top of mind as he navigates his future career, a value that he’s cultivated during his time in the UF College of Pharmacy.

“Spending time with patients and finding the best regimen for them is what keeps me inspired,” Arthur said. “It’s such an exciting time for us — we’re one step closer to our futures and being able to take care of patients. Today is a huge day. Getting a white coat is what a lot of people dream of.”