ECU dental students receive white coats, usher in clinical phase of education

Before choosing dental school, Brianna Horne carefully considered a variety of different careers in the health care field.

When she slipped on her white coat Thursday evening during the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine’s White Coat Ceremony, Horne knew it was the perfect fit.

Members of the School of Dental Medicine’s Class of 2024 walk to their seats during their White Coat Ceremony at the Greenville Convention Center on March 3.

Horne and her classmates in the Class of 2024 walked across the stage at the Greenville Convention Center on Thursday night and donned their white coats to mark the official start of the clinical phase of dental school. It also signifies the students’ formal acceptance of their obligations to their patients, communities and society.

“My journey to becoming a dentist has not been a traditional one,” said Horne, who was a nurse for a little over a year before exploring a career in medicine and then in dentistry. “I decided I wanted to enter a profession that would fulfill all the purposes I was put on this earth to do.”

Retired School of Dental Medicine faculty member Dr. Loren Alves greeted the students on behalf of the Old North State Dental Society.

“You stuck to your goal and the destiny you chose to beat the odds to get into dental school, getting past that first year,” Alves told the class. “You’re now on the precipice of seeing it through — the rite of passage to clinical dentistry and managing your own patients.”

School of Dental Medicine Dean Dr. Greg Chadwick addressed the students before they received their coats, describing the turning point they had reached.

“It is a tradition, it marks a transition,” Chadwick said. “You will be held to a higher standard of expectation, that of a doctor of dental medicine.”

Chadwick reminded them that each coat represents the special bonds between patient and provider that they will begin to foster as part of the “privilege to provide care for another human being,” including the 30-35% of North Carolinians who don’t have regular access to oral health care, he said.

“Keep in mind the reasons you chose dentistry, in the personal statement you wrote before you were accepted to dental school,” he said. “Your understanding is far greater than it was … but don’t forget the essence of that personal statement and the relationships you will develop as you apply your new knowledge and skills.”

School of Medicine Dean Dr. Greg Chadwick and Vice Dean Dr. Maggie Wilson join dental student Haley Hildreth as she waves to friends and family during the Class of 2024’s White Coat Ceremony at the Greenville Convention Center.

After each student received his or her coat, the class recited the Class Pledge they composed together.

They recited the final line in unison: “Together, we pledge that our voices will comfort, our hands will heal and our hearts will be open to all.”

Student Stephanie Camacho grinned as the faculty coaters helped her into her white coat.

“Coming from an underserved population myself, being able to give back to a community I feel so strongly connected with is the most rewarding feeling,” she said in the days before the ceremony. “I am extremely proud and grateful to be one step closer to becoming the best dentist I can be.”

Student Matthew Pendleton is carrying on a legacy of providing community health care.

“I decided to become a dentist because I wanted to care for my community like my father did as a doctor,” he said. “He passed away a couple of years ago, so I will be thinking of him and his lifetime of health care service when I put on my white coat.”

Haley Hildreth waved to her family as she posed for a photo on stage after receiving her coat.

“What an honor and privilege it is to have received this white coat,” she reflected. “The long nights of studying, hours in the Sim Lab and time spent away from family have all paid off for this moment. I look forward to upholding the commitments to my patients, community and family that is symbolized by this white coat.”

For Horne, the white coat represents her place among a trailblazing group of dentists who have come before her.

“To know that there are only 3.8% of African American dentists in the world gives me the ambition to ensure that patients of all backgrounds receive quality evidenced based oral health care,” she said. “I also find it impactful that I will be the first African American female dentist in my rural hometown upon graduating from dental school.”