Physician Funds White Coats for Alma Mater's Med Students

Rebecca Maloof

November 11, 2021

As the dozens of Class of 2025 medical students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine recently walked across the stage to receive their white coats, they likely thought of the parents, friends, and family who helped them get to that moment. But they also owe a debt of gratitude to a former alumnus who plays a large role in the medical rite of passage.

Recalling the importance of his own white coat ceremony, internist and pediatric specialist Richard Wardrop III, MD, PhD, has, for years, helped cover the cost of those white coats at his alma mater. 

"Symbolically, the white coat is part of the professional identity of physicians for many in our western medical tradition," Wardrop told Medscape Medical News. "To me, to be able to give them this first white coat is like a promise on my part as a medical educator, leader, and mid-career physician to make a welcoming and inclusive culture for them, like a promise of sorts and a greeting. It is one of the finer traditions of my calling as a physician."

Wardrop received his undergraduate degree from Virginia Tech in 1994 and was practicing medicine at the Carilion Clinic when Virginia Tech was building the Carilion School of Medicine. Virginia Tech did not have a medical school during his time there, and so he earned his PhD and medical degree from Ohio State University before doing his residency at the University of North Carolina. However, he still felt a connection to his alma mater and served as a faculty member at the school of medicine after it opened. Earlier this year, he began working at the Cleveland Clinic as program director of the hospital's internal medicine residency program.

Wardrop began his underwriting of white coats at Ohio State, partnering with a colleague of his on a challenge to fund at least half of the coats for MD and PhD students.

"We did this for many years with the intent to welcome these unique and special students into our profession and to reassure them that the day would come for them to wear the white coat as a physician despite their longer pathway in the MD/PhD program," said Wardrop. 

When a similar opportunity came up at Virginia Tech, Wardrop felt it was "an excellent opportunity" for he and his wife, Sarah, to give back.

After discovering the school's need for funding for white coats, Wardrop decided to become involved. His alma mater has recognized his charitable efforts and he's invited to each ceremony, including the most recent one October 15.

Wardrop continues to be an active member of the school's community, and he hopes this charitable act will continue to influence both the medical community and the school. "My hope is that this, on a regular basis, highlights the importance of the aspect of professionalism and professional identity formation in medical education," he said. "We must emulate and project our professional ethos to those who will follow us." 

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