2013 Freshman Pinning Ceremony Celebrates First-Year Students and Their Families

As a high school senior, Eric Weiss told his dad he had no intention of following him into the medical profession. “I wanted to be a meteorologist,” he recalled. Yet, there he was standing on stage in the Schoninger Research Quadrangle this past Friday, joyously receiving the gold, green and orange pin symbolizing his official welcome into the Miller School’s proud family of physicians from his father, a member of the Class of 1981 who four years earlier had pinned his older brother.

With high-fives, hugs, handshakes and big sighs of relief, Weiss and 194 other members of the Class of 2016 celebrated the near-completion of their first year of medical school during the 13th Annual John G. Clarkson Freshman Pinning Ceremony, a now-cherished tradition named in honor of Dean Emeritus John G. Clarkson, M.D., a member of the Class of 1968. Crossing the stage in pairs with fellow members of their respective medical societies, each student stood proudly as a faculty member, a Miller School alumnus or an upperclassman – sometimes a sister, brother, mother or, as in Weiss’s case, a father – affixed the lapel pin depicting the Miller School’s mission statement to their white coat.

“I think I am just as proud of him as he is of me,” Eric Weiss said of his dad, Steven D. Weiss, M.D. “I’ve had my ups and downs and he’s definitely been there to help me, either with support or actual information. During anatomy, I had him on the phone every night.”

Before the rites of passage, students and their guests listened intently to rousing words from Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., and an inspiring keynote address from Norman M. Kenyon, M.D., president of the medical school’s inaugural Class of 1956.

“This is the best medical school class we’ve ever had, with the highest GPA and the highest MCAT scores,” Dean Goldschmidt said to thunderous applause, later thanking parents for making the success of their sons and daughters possible. “But what makes me the most proud as your Dean are the qualities that come from your heart – compassion, generosity, tenacity, dignity, and respect for your patients and your fellow humans. … By now you all have a sense of the dedication, focus and commitment needed to become a physician and serve patients for a lifetime.”

Kenyon, a distinguished surgeon who operated the heart pump during the first open-heart surgery performed at Jackson Memorial Hospital, recalled how he and 27 fellow students attended the medical school’s inaugural classes at the VA’s annex, now the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, paving the way for a succession of “fabulous” physicians. Recounting the medical advances, from laparoscopic surgery to gene therapy, he witnessed over the decades, Kenyon urged the Class of 2016 to always remember that medicine has limitations, and among their many responsibilities is ensuring that their patients understand them.

“Your job now is to educate patients to the fact that we cannot achieve 100 percent results in the treatment of cancer, infection or trauma,” Kenyon said. “When patients have participated in discussions about inefficiencies (in medicine) and the lack of 100 percent (success) in care, they rarely need attorneys.”

With the ceremony ably emceed and co-directed by second-year students Sarah Sonny and Brian Simmons, the first-year students and their guests also heard a bit of one-upsmanship from some of the student co-directors of the 15 academic societies, who in explaining their society’s medical significance proudly proclaimed theirs to be the best with the brightest students. Drawing laughter and good-natured jeers from other society members, the frivolity was a stark contrast to the seriousness and hard work everyone who walked across that stage had survived.

“I’m really excited to be here,” said Ashley Taggart, who like many Courvoisier Society members was pinned by UM Trustee Edward Dauer, M.D., member of the Class of 1975. “It means a lot. I was worried when I started, but the more I got the lay of the land the more comfortable I felt.”

“In the beginning it was so stressful, but now it is much better,” agreed Blackwell Society’s Omar Ilyas, an M.D./M.P.H. candidate whose sister Safia, a fourth-year student, was honored to bestow his pin.

Students also celebrated another milestone – the return of the Dean’s Challenge Cup to the Miller School for the third year in a row. Triumphantly hoisting the trophy delivered by Dean’s Cup Chairs Thomas Hughes and Kristy Whyte, Dean Goldschmidt thanked the Miller School competitors who bested their law school counterparts during two weeks of sporting and service events last month. Also offering her congratulations was UM President Donna E. Shalala, who had just met with the Miller School’s newly formed Parents Council.

For the second year in a row, Steven F. Falcone, M.D., Chief Executive of UM at Jackson and Associate Vice President for Medical Affairs, led the newly pinned students in the recitation of the medical oath. But this time was even more special for him than the first. Among those repeating the Declaration of Geneva after him was his middle daughter, Michelle, a UM biology grad who had followed her father to medical school. “It is a very special day,” Falcone said.

Now a private-practice pathologist in Broward County, Steven D. Weiss, M.D., couldn’t have agreed more. Broadcasting his allegiance with his bright orange dress shirt and UM tie, Weiss said now that he’s pinned sons Joshua, who graduated last year, and Eric, who is slated to graduate in 2016, he’s hoping to pin son No. 3, Adam, in 2017

“It would be my dream that he would be in the Class of 2020,” Weiss said, before joining Miller School education Deans Alex M. and Hilit Mechaber, and members of the Doctor’s Notes chorus in closing the 2013 pinning ceremony with a rousing rendition of the University’s Alma Mater.

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