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What does it mean to earn your white coat? The 2022 dental student recipients share their stories.

The White Coat Ceremony is a respected tradition for dental, medical and other health care students that signifies the transition from preclinical studies to clinical care. At the University of Colorado School of Dentistry (CU SDM), students earn their white coats at the end of their second year of the Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) program or their first year of the Advanced Standing International program. Student Program (ISP).

So what does it mean to earn your white coat? Of course, this is a crucial step in becoming a medical professional. This means you have completed the learning required to start caring for real patients. This also comes with the dental oath reading; students engage “in service to humanity, to my patients, to my community, and to my profession.”

In addition to the historical and professional significance of the white coat, each student who reaches this milestone has a story that brings unique and personal meaning to this milestone.

Shawg Ahmed (DDS ’24) is a first generation college student who grew up in a single parent family. She was born in Sudan, raised in Denver, Colorado, and studied Integrative Physiology at CU Boulder. She says, “Winning my white coat isn’t just a celebration for me, but it’s more of a celebration of my family’s hard work.”

As a person with type 1 diabetes, Ahmed saw how badly diabetes affected his teeth. “I knew dentistry was for me because I can personally empathize with patients who have oral health issues due to general systemic health issues.”

Prior to dental school, she attended the Undergraduate Pre-Health Program (UPP), which helped her learn to challenge herself academically. “The UPP has prepared me to fully understand health care disparities and be able to relate dental care needs to the population I serve.”


Fernando Deon (ISP ’23) practiced oral and maxillofacial surgery in his home country of Brazil for several years before pursuing a career in the United States. He comes from a family of dentists: his father is a general dentist; his sister is a periodontist and his brother is an orthodontist. “My dad was my biggest inspiration. Seeing him practice made me realize how important dentistry is in people’s lives.

Deon is part of the Advanced Level International Student Program, an accelerated two-year DDS program offered to dentists who have earned a bachelor’s degree in dentistry outside the United States. He says he chose to study at CU SDM because the school “is known for its innovation and comprehensive dental education, preparing professionals to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners.”

During his freshman year, Deon learned that “dentistry is done in the details, where knowledge must be evidence-based, and skill comes from relentless training.”

He says, “Earning my white coat marks the beginning of patient care, where I will have the opportunity to develop clinical skills to practice dentistry with the highest standards of care as taught by the CU School of Dental Medicine.”

Rachel Bryant RawlingsRachel Bryant-Rawlings (DDS ’24) grew up in Monument, Colorado and chose to study dentistry at CU SDM so she could be close to her family. “They’ve been the best support system,” she says. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Allied Health from Azusa Pacific University in California, Bryant-Rawlings worked as a dental assistant at a pediatric practice in Colorado Springs. She was inspired by the dentists in the practice.

Although she doesn’t yet know what she would like to do after graduation, she learned a lot in her first two years of dental school about the profession, work-life balance, prioritization and limitations.

“I have a 10 month old son and I’ve realized that being a student is a temporary title. It’s a stepping stone to a career that will help me support my family.”

Earning his white coat, Bryant-Rawlings said, “It symbolizes becoming more than a student and entering healthcare as a professional. It is a sign of honor for our hard work as well as for the new responsibilities we will have as suppliers.

Arane Akeeh

Arane Akeeh (DDS ’24) will be the first in her refugee family to earn a PhD. She was born near Port Harcourt, Nigeria and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After earning a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Arizona State University, she decided to pursue a career in dentistry.

“Dentistry got me excited because it’s a healthcare career that could also help build people’s confidence,” she says. “A healthy smile is important for overall health and well-being.”

When asked what winning a white coat means to her, Akeeh replied “It represents how far I have come from my humble beginnings. It represents how I could make my family and my community proud of me.

After graduating – in just two years – Akeeh plans to work for the refugee population. “I want to help serve the same community I was raised in. I want to help people with similar backgrounds achieve their goals.”

Cameron Birch

Cameron Birch (DDS ’24) says dentistry is a perfect profession for him: “It’s a combination of physics, engineering, creativity and art, which are some of my greatest interests and passions . Being able to deliver healthy, beautiful smiles while interacting with patients on a recurrent basis only adds to what makes dentistry such an amazing profession.

Growing up in Gilbert, Arizona and attending the University of Arizona for undergrad, moving to Colorado for dental school was definitely something new. He says it’s the incorporation of technology into the dental program that sets CU SDM apart. Commitment to rural health care through the Advanced Clinical Training Service (ACTS) Program and using an interprofessional healthcare model to treat patients were also attractive qualities for UC.

Now that he’s entering “the real world of clinical care,” Birch says earning his white coat “is testament to all the incredibly hard work my classmates and I have endured to get to this point. All of our diligence, emotions, stress and accomplishments have led to this ceremonial occasion that we can all celebrate.

This year’s White Coat Ceremony will take place on Friday, May 20, 2022 at Boettcher Commons on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus with remarks from Dean Kassebaum, Dr. Johnson and others. Students will accept their white coats from Dr. Mediavilla, Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Admissions, and Dr. Baskaran, Director of the Advanced Standing International Student Program. For more details and full lists of 2022 White Coat recipients, see event page.