September 23, 2022 | Miranda Le, Jane Moon, MD
On September 9, 2022, our own Jennifer Lucero, MD, MA, Associate Dean for Admissions and Vice Chair of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine (DAPM), delivered the keynote address at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2026 of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (DGSOM). She shared a powerful personal story of resilience and perseverance to welcome students into the medical profession.
The White Coat Ceremony is an important milestone for new medical students. Being cloaked with their first white coats in the presence of family, friends, and faculty members signifies the start of the journey toward becoming a physician. At DGSOM, the ceremony reinforces the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship, reminding students that physicians should care, as well as cure.
In her keynote speech, Dr. Lucero told a story of symbols. Following her family’s move to Los Angeles, her father served as a combat medic during the Vietnam War. He brought his medic bag back home with him, and a young Dr. Lucero would often open it and think about the many people he helped. It became an important symbol for her, and at the age of seven, she proclaimed to her father that she would become a doctor.
She carried the medic bag with her through the many hardships she faced. From navigating college as a first-generation student to caring for her father after he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, the bag served as a symbol of perseverance. “Believe in yourself even when the system does not always appear to believe in you,” she reminded the medical students.
Olivia Vallejo, DAPM Administrative Manager of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), attended the ceremony in support of Dr. Lucero. Despite knowing her for over two years, Ms. Vallejo felt like she was learning about her all over again as she listened to her speech. “Every time I talk to her, she's such an inspiration to me, and she continues to have that impact. Seeing her speak up on such a platform and be vulnerable with her story… I was just so proud,” she said.
As a physician of Mexican and Indigenous descent, Dr. Lucero shared her story with the hope of providing the students, many who are also first-generation or underrepresented in medicine, with a sense of belonging. She validated that each student brings lived experiences that will provide strength for the grueling journey and help improve the health of underserved communities. She emphasized:
"The white coat is not just a symbol of healing, but also of the power and privilege that medical students hold to effect change.”
At Dr. Lucero’s own medical school graduation, her Uncle Cruz, who was also present for her keynote address, had proudly stated, “In one generation, we went from picking fruit in the fields to graduating from medical school.” Seeking to encourage the next generation, Dr. Lucero dedicated her career to uplifting underrepresented students in medicine through financial aid and outreach programs. Within our department, Dr. Lucero formed the Committee on JEDI, which promotes justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion within the arenas of education, recruitment, retention, research, and career development.
DAPM Department Chair Maxime Cannesson, MD, PhD, defined Dr. Lucero’s impact with one word: courage. “Dr. Lucero’s courage to ask difficult questions, to speak up, and to always challenge is inspiring to me,” he said. “I admire this courage, and I believe my role as Chair is to create an environment that allows us to feel comfortable challenging the status quo relentlessly, to make changes, and to support those who commit to it.”
Dr. Lucero’s keynote speech, which received a standing ovation, was empowering and uplifting. By sharing a lifetime of experiences, she emphasized numerous attributes that are important to the path in medicine: compassion, persistence, communication, reflection, and advocacy. Seeing limitless potential in the next generation of physicians, she hoped that sharing her own story would inspire the first-year medical students to achieve their dreams.
Watch the full ceremony below. Keynote speech begins at 32:15.