PEORIA — A record number of students participated in the White Coat Ceremony at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria on Friday afternoon.
The ceremony is held every year to welcome the new class of medical students. Students recite an oath after they are given their white coats, an important symbol of their profession.
“We hope you wear your coats with great pride and great humility,” Dr. Robert Sparrow, president of the Peoria Medical Alumni Council, said to the packed auditorium at Jump Simulation. “Welcome to the profession of medicine.”
The class of 2022 includes 67 students, nine more than last year. While UICOMP is intentionally growing its program, it had only planned on accepting 60 students this year, said Dr. Sara Rusch, regional dean of UICOMP.
“Students apply to multiple schools and as they get their acceptances in May, the top students will have several choices. So we usually lose a few as they choose to go to other schools. That didn’t happen this year.”
UICOMP is becoming more attractive to medical students due, in part, to a recent expansion, said Rusch. Last year was the first time the college accepted M1 students, which means students can now do all four years of training in Peoria. UICOMP also recently spent $3 million to create a new anatomy wing, a technology-rich classroom and student oasis, and a virtual reality lab.
“And as a result, we have become a much more competitive school for attracting and retaining top students,” Rusch said.
UICOMP is expanding its program in reaction to the doctor shortage, said Rusch.
“The projected doctor shortage is particularly bad in downstate and rural Illinois,” she said.
In that effort, it’s particularly exciting that every student in UICOMP’s class of 2022 is from Illinois.
“This is the first class in my memory that doesn’t have out-of-state students in it,” said Rusch.
Because people tend to settle in communities where they have family, recruiting in-state students will likely have a positive effect on the local doctor shortage, she said.
While admissions are managed at the university’s main campus in Chicago, an effort was made to interview prospective students with downstate connections in Peoria, said Rusch.
“All students are interviewed as part of the admissions process,” she said. “We don’t decide who gets admitted to medical school — that’s decided centrally — but the admissions office tried to assign people with a downstate ZIP code to have their required interview in Peoria. It’s a chance to see the campus and the medical community. With UnityPoint and OSF here we have 900 hospital beds within six blocks of the campus. That’s a tremendous learning environment. They take a tour on a bus, and they look at Jump Simulation. Those are all things I think have helped contribute to the recruitment of students in Peoria.”
After the ceremony, new UICOMP student Taylor Schweigert said being able to study in Peoria is a huge blessing.
“We are able to keep our roots down in our own community, with our own support network,” he said.
A native of Tremont, Taylor and his wife, Madison, now live in Peoria. It’s been an eventful week for the couple — Madison gave birth to their son, Lincoln, at OSF HealthCare St. Francis Medical center on Monday.
“We were laughing as we drove in today that we just came this way earlier this week,” Madison said as Lincoln slept peacefully in a carrier at her feet.
As a 2012 graduate of Tremont High School, Taylor said it’s likely he will one day return to the small town.
“Ultimately I think that’s a place I’d like to practice medicine.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.