On the evening of Friday, Aug. 9, the 104 individuals constituting the Class of 2023 participated in UCI’s White Coat Ceremony before an estimated 650 well-wishers. AntMedia

It’s said that the journey of a lifetime starts with a single step. New UCI School of Medicine students took that initial stride on the Irvine Barclay Theatre stage as they put on their first doctor’s white coat.

On the evening of Friday, Aug. 9, the 104 individuals constituting the Class of 2023 participated in UCI’s White Coat Ceremony before an estimated 650 well-wishers. During the celebratory yet solemn rite of passage, these future physicians recited the medical student oath and receive a pin from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to seal their commitment to providing excellent and compassionate healthcare.

“The White Coat Ceremony is unique in that it marks both the end of a long admissions process and the beginning of their professional career,” says Ellena Peterson, assistant dean of admissions at the School of Medicine. “Having family and friends present to witness this transition makes the event even more special. In a sense, it’s a reverse graduation, one filled with pride, anticipation and hope for the future.”

The ceremony is part of an orientation period that ends with the start of classes on Aug. 12. Additionally, it’s when a diverse and driven group of men and women begin to forge lifelong relationships and help lead the transformation of U.S. healthcare.

The personal paths to medical school come from all directions. Otilio Castillo, 28, was the first in his family to graduate from college, and he had planned to go into law enforcement. “But I knew that was not the field for me,” he says.

So four years ago, Castillo took a job as a medical technician in the emergency room at Downey’s PIH Health Hospital, serving as a translator for Spanish-speaking patients.

“It was then I knew medicine was for me,” he says. “The experiences I had working in the ER, translating for physicians, social workers and nurses, reinforced my belief that I had to go into medicine to help underserved Latino populations. Plus, watching people in pain and dying lit a fire in me to do what I can to prevent others from suffering.”

At UCI, Castillo will be joining the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community, a groundbreaking, five-year M.D.-master’s program designed to develop physician-leaders who can address the distinctive healthcare issues and needs of that demographic.

“With PRIME-LC, I want to be trained to become a culturally competent physician who can serve my community in the best possible way,” he says. “That’s PRIME-LC’s mission, and I’m grateful that it happens to be mine as well.”

Camille Andre, 24, comes to medical school driven to assist people who, like her, have Type 1 diabetes. In addition to graduating from UC Davis with a degree in biochemistry, she has volunteered in a diabetes clinic in Haiti and spent three summers as a lifeguard and counselor at a camp in Sequoia National Park for kids with Type 1 diabetes.

“Working at the clinic and the camp let me help people view their disease in a positive way,” Andre says. “What really made me decide to become a doctor is when I realized the bigger impact I could have. I really care about medicine and the direction healthcare is going, and that makes me want to go into a leadership position.”

The White Coat Ceremony heralds the beginning of that endeavor.

“I’ve been telling people that getting into medical school is the biggest accomplishment of my life,” Andre says. “I’m proud to have this great opportunity, and I want to do the most with it I possibly can.”